PSJA ISD Journeys Towards Sustainability 


Starting the 2023-2024 school year, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD (PSJA ISD) will adopt the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) to revamp the curriculum and unite campuses and departments districtwide towards common intentional, sustainable efforts.

The SDGs are a blueprint for all countries to take action to achieve a more sustainable future worldwide. PSJA began this effort before the COVID-19 pandemic and will now join forces alongside its tri-city partners Pharr, San Juan, and Alamo to emphasize sustainability at every level.

“We want to help our students make the connection to real-world needs while also getting a high-quality and engaging curriculum that meets the state expectations,” said Claudia Gonzalez, Executive Officer for Elementary Schools, who has been leading efforts to embed the 17 SDGs into the curriculum.

In addition to revamping the curriculum to help students gain important and relevant knowledge to succeed, these efforts will also help empower students to serve and contribute to their community and think globally.

Impact in the Classroom & Beyond

In Hidalgo County, 28.8% of the county’s residents live below the poverty line and PSJA services many socio-economically disadvantaged students. Equipping these students with the knowledge and tools to end poverty and hunger in their lives addresses SDG goals 1 and 2, respectively. Most elementary schools within the district have gardens where the children are planting vegetables and consume what they grow.

“We started this a few years back in numerous schools, but now we are making that connection with a Sustainable Platform so that the students know that they are not just out there planting, but also making important connections while gaining skills like literacy, science, and more,” said Gonzalez. “They are learning that this is something that can be sustainable in their life. They are more able to care for themselves in the future. That goes towards ending hunger.”

Ending poverty enables families to feed themselves and this priority works towards Goal 3, Good Health and Well-being. Addressing each of these begins with Goal 4, Quality Education.

“All of the 17 SDGs are relevant in everything we do as a school district and community,” said Interim Superintendent Dr. Alejandro Elias. “For example, the Valley is largely impacted by obesity and diabetes. That is one of the areas of many that we’re looking at. How can we educate our students with a relevant and impactful curriculum, and how can we educate our community members? It’s a trickle-down effect from our students. It trickles down to their parents and that is our community.”

The school district is not alone in reaching the community to become more sustainable. Each of the three cities that feed into the district, Pharr, San Juan, and Alamo, are working on emphasizing sustainability. Forming partnerships with the cities will allow PSJA students to witness and implement what they learn in their community.

“The three cities are joining in and becoming sustainable cities. I think this is going to translate for us as a district to form a partnership, Goal 17 (Partnerships to Achieve the Goals), to become one united front to educate our students and our parents,” said Dr. Elias. “And of course, everyone wins out of this because we become a more successful tri-city area.”

Implementing these goals begins at the top, with each department in the district. The idea is that the efforts will trickle down as the students see sustainability efforts at every level.

At PSJA ISD, the efforts to implement a districtwide sustainability approach are led by a committee of district leaders comprised of numerous departments whose work directly connects to one or more of the 17 SDGs including Curriculum, Human Resources, Operations, Health Services, Construction, Transportation, Child Nutrition, Police, and Communications.

“Great things happen when we come together and work towards a common goal,” said Dr. Elias. “We want our students to not only learn about the 17 Sustainability Goals in the classroom but also see them at every level in our district. From the food they eat in our cafeteria, the bus they ride to school each morning, and eventually in every facility they use in any of our tri-cities. It all makes a difference.”

According to Gonzalez, instruction on reaching the UN Goals begins as early as Pre-K 3. A preschool class may read “Little Red Hen,” and plant seeds in the school garden, or reread the story as they water the sprouting plant and again as they eat the vegetables they grew.

At Marcia Garza Elementary in Alamo, sustainability goals are connected to each lesson, and classroom walls in every level display anchor charts with the 17 SDGs for students to make connections.

“It doesn’t matter if a child is 4 or 5 or 10, they can be world changers,” said Marcia R. Garza Elementary Principal Marisa Santoy.

According to Santoy, teachers strategically have students read stories and make connections to the Sustainability Goals. For example, a story about a female judge emphasizes Goal 5: Gender Equality. Science classes discuss Goals 13 (Climate Action), 14 (Life Below Water), and 15 (Life on Land).

At the 4th and 5th grade level, students research problems that fit into one of the Sustainability Goals and come up with a solution to help reach that goal. One student designed a model of a playground for children with disabilities, that achieved Goal 10, Reduced Inequality. In May, students at some elementary schools will present their projects at a sustainability fair.

“It creates more rounded, critical thinking,” said Santoy. “It gets them thinking on their own, rather than being told what to think. Learning a la fun.”