ECS: What Makes Us Innovative

Our Program

How are we different?

Our curriculum is thinking- and human-centered. ECS creates experiences that support and extend the development of the whole child.  ECS offers an educational experience that develops students into critical thinkers, thoughtful innovators, and well-rounded scholars.  We provide students the tools and educational foundation to become tomorrow’s global citizen. We don’t just teach; we strive to show students how their choices impact the world around them.

We value curriculum and culture equally.  Most schools have tunnel vision when it comes to program --it all revolves around curriculum choices.  Without strong culture, however, even the best curricular programs will fail.  ECS partners authentic culture development with the educational experience.  Culture is the foundation for all the work we do.

We are rethinking what school “looks like.” The design of public schools largely came out during Industrial Revolution. One-hundred and fifty years later, public schools have initiated minimal changes to how schools look and feel. ECS challenges the notion of what schools look like.  We design spaces with students and educators, and create environments that reflect beauty, support health and wellness, and inspire creativity and engagement.

We are reinventing the profession.  ECS educators are facilitators, collaborators, and creative geniuses.  Instead of teaching to the test, ECS educators connect with students where they are, and inspire students to be extraordinary citizens of the world.  Along the way, ECS educators are changing the conversation about what it means to be a practitioner of education, and blazing the trail for a new excellence in the profession.

Our measures of success support the development of the whole child.  ECS knows that children are not defined by a number, or a word (would you want to be labeled “basic?”).  In fact, we are working to measure the various ways that students thrive in a learning environment.  Our educators are developing ways to gather data around student growth in academic areas, thinking and synthesizing, and socio-emotional.  ECS maintains the strong belief that ALL children can THRIVE.

We create systems to support thriving humans.  ECS doesn’t build complex systems for paper-pushers to manage.  We design systems to support human effectiveness, and to improve efficiency.  Using human-centered design techniques, we prototype, practice, and iterate to get operations working to support teaching and learning.

We collaborate to challenge traditional school governance.   ECS is a high-functioning organization that requires a different kind of governing board.  ECS collaborates with board members to build strategic partnerships, manage financials in an ethical and thrifty manner, and build strong allies for public education in the city of Pittsburgh.  Much like we approach students, we believe each member of our board contributes to our success.

Translating the Why to the How: How do we get students from extraordinary little people to extraordinary big people?

As students explore, discover, question, and learn through the lens of a scientist, the curricular areas of reading/language arts, mathematics, social studies, and the arts and humanities are increasingly experienced through connections with a child’s sense of place and through authentic learning experiences in the field. An integrated approach to instruction provides students with a more holistic understanding of the natural, social, and built systems that define our community. Using the urban landscape as an extension of the traditional classroom becomes a natural asset to daily instruction, to integration of environment and ecology standards, and to the educational experience of every child.

School is more than just “schooling.”  Schools have the opportunity to reinvent culture by providing experiences and connections that allow children to interact thoughtfully with their world.  ECS focuses on well-being, relationships, perseverance, and integrity.  When creating amazing human beings is the recipe, a safe, healthy, happy school is a critical ingredient.  ECS values voice and choice, and encourages curiosity and creativity.  We are constantly working to ensure our actions support the culture we want to see and feel.

Innovative Moments @ ECS

  • ECS launched the innovative Lower School Thinking Lab, a multi-disciplinary classroom that challenges students to integrate art, technology, and environmental education through visible and design thinking strategies
  • ECS uses Human-Centered Design techniques for continual focus and refinement of all aspects of our work –including re-imagining what board governance in a public school could look like.
  • 33% of ECS Educators completed at least one level of the ECS Competency Based Growth Professional Development Program
  • ECS works in the inaugural cohort of the Green Schools Academy, a program designed to infuse sustainable culture and values throughout an organization, using a system-based approach
  • ECS logs over 1,000 outdoor education experiences for students each year!  The experiences involve inquiry, testing, proto-typing, and exploring potential solutions.
  • ECS uses Thinking Assessments to document student’s ways of approaching problems and solution
  • ECS offers Exploratory Courses in the Middle Grades that harness educator passions and students’ budding interests
  • ECS uses Human-Centered Design techniques for continual focus and refinement of all aspects of our work –including reimagining what board governance in a public school could look like.
  • ECS’s kindergarten through fifth grade follows 4 school-wide units that spiral in content and exploration.  Our Environmental Literacy Block (between 60 and 90 minutes daily) focuses on a complex question in one of these areas, and students and educators dive deeply into content, foster creative questions, and actively engage in activities that ignite thinking.  Our ever-evolving units include: Quarter 1: Local Living Things and their Homes: A Study of the Local Living World; Quarter 2: Designs, Dilemmas, and Development: A Study of Human Interactions and the Built Environment; Quarter 3: Everything Up and Down: A Study of Earth and its Atmosphere; Quarter 4: Cocoons, Cycles, and Cultivation: A Study of Cycles and Change in the Environment
  • Students in the middle grades (6-8) receive daily science instruction aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards Standards, and rigorously engage in questioning, critical thinking, and creative problem solving.



"ECS offers a program that develops students into critical thinkers, thoughtful innovators, and well- rounded scholars. We provide students the tools and educational foundation to become tomorrow’s global citizen, and we strive to teach students how their choices impact the world around them."  

- ECS Educator, Nikole Sheaffer