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Sustainability Education

Now for the Future

Harley offers classes, projects, clubs, and electives each year to help students gain knowledge about sustainability from ecological, cultural, innovation, and economic perspectives. From our microfarm to our 15,000 sq. ft. living building, students have a myriad of opportunities for hands-on, experiential learning as they explore problems, seek solutions, and build competencies for creating a sustainable world. 

Students are exposed to areas of study including: food systems and farming, renewable energy, biomimicry, conservation biology, and civic engagement in the larger community. Harley students in all divisions have topics related to sustainability woven into their classroom work.

We are able to offer a unique and creative educational experience that challenges them to think differently about science and our environment as a whole. This is an experience they don’t get anywhere else in our region.

The Commons Building

The Commons is the first PreK-12 education space in the country to offer students multiple dimensions of education around creating a sustainable future. Here, students are immersed in a learning environment that promotes student engagement and active learning—a space where theory and practice come together on a daily basis.

Officially opened in January 2014, the 15,000-square-foot structure earns its status as a “living building” because it generates its own energy, heats and cools with renewable nontoxic resources, captures and utilizes water and carbon in its greenhouse, and operates efficiently using students as the “brains” or controls for managing its operations.

Our Sustainability Statement

We are committed stewards of our planet and each other. In this way, we are advocates for a sustainable future. Learning through a lens of sustainability provides an essential framework for understanding our world.

We believe sustainability:

  • relies on a balanced system.
  • embraces the interdependence of the environment, the community, and the economy.
  • builds on the past, is attentive to the present, and aims for a viable future.

Sample Curricular Programs

Harlic Garlic

Grade 3

Our Grade 3 students plan, design, and operate a garlic farming business as part of the Harley microfarm. They work together in a multidisciplinary approach, including: writing, reading, presenting, sharing, as well as hands-on work in the microfarm.  

Each year, Grade 3 students sell the garlic that was grown the previous year (and harvested over the summer), and at the end of the fall, they plant another round of garlic for the next class.

Energy Data

Grade 8

Middle School students learned about energy data collection in the Commons building and participated in a week-long energy challenge to try to minimize energy use in the classroom. Because their class is in the Commons, they have data available showing how much energy is actually used. While students studied the data and suggested ways that they could impact energy use in their classroom, they also learned about how solar energy works.

Upper School

Work is interdisciplinary, focusing on interrelationships of the natural world, ecological processes, human impacts on the Earth, and how to resolve or prevent natural and human-made environmental problems. Opportunities range from AP classes to independent studies to electives and clubs.

rAP Environmental Science students test organic farm, backyard, and Haley microfarm soils for nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and Ph level.

The Commons Series

Free and open to the public! Join us for a presentation, discussion, or talk on various topics related to sustainability. The Commons Series is designed to engage local and regional leaders to facilitate discussions in the areas of mindfulness and empathy; environmental sustainability and science; civic engagement and the democratic process; and inquiry-driven exploration. 

All of these topics are part of The Commons programs for Harley students and families. 

Teachers, students, and the public are invited to attend.  

Previous speakers include: Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, Town Supervisor Bill Moehle, NPR Connections radio host Evan Dawson, Cornell Dean of Students Vijay Pendakur, Democrat and Chronicle journalist Erica Bryant, and the Gandhi Institute.

Conferences Hosted at Harley

Commons programming embraces life long learning and collaborations among schools. Conferences held at our School include: NYSAIS capstone connect, Project Drawdown workshop for Greater Rochester area students, Food and Farm Summit, and a Sustainability Educators gathering. 

A Closer Look at the Project Drawdown Event

The Harley School, in conjunction with Rochester Youth Climate Leaders (RYCL), invited students from School of the Arts (SOTA) and Genesee Community Charter School (GCCS) for a workshop to address climate change featuring ideas and solutions proposed by Project Drawdown. By using this model, students focused on local efforts they could support ro offset the climate crisis and even reverse the effects.


 Project Drawdown is an international nonprofit organization that that maps, measures, models and communicates about a collective array of substantive solutions to global warming. The term “drawdown” refers to the point in time when the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere begins to decline on a year-to-year basis.

As part of the workshop, students broke into groups to build something sustainable to help lower the carbon footprint of their respective schools. The break out groups included the following topics: plant-based diet, composting, net-zero building, and educating girls.

The Harley School

1981 Clover Street
Rochester, NY 14618
(585) 442-1770

©2021 The Harley School