Environmental Studies School (ESS)

Program Overview

Sky Valley’s Environmental Studies School serves middle and high school students in grades 6-10, providing an immersive curriculum in both the sciences and humanities. Multidisciplinary in its scope, environmental science includes not only the life and physical sciences, but also the study of humans and their interrelationship with the natural world. Accordingly, ESS students study language arts, social studies and the arts alongside the biological and physical sciences—including mathematics. We strive to help students build their core knowledge of these disciplines and to develop a deep understanding of the connections between them.

The Environmental Studies School provides a rich learning environment designed to develop student skills in observation, inquiry, analysis, and communication. Indoors, students make full use of the tools and technologies of both traditional classroom and laboratory. Outside, students spend at least one day a week in local wetland, forest, marine, or mountain ecosystems where they learn and employ basic field methodology techniques. Additionally, students participate in environmental service projects, expanding their knowledge of sustainability and building connections in the community. Throughout their study, students are encouraged to become involved in an outdoor field project in an area of interest. At the end of the year, students take their curiosity, skills, and knowledge into a Washington state or national park on a teacher-led multi-day hiking/camping excursion.

What Do ESS Students Learn?

Our students develop scientific literacy through the study of core domain knowledge in both the sciences and the humanities. In the biological, physical and earth sciences, studies include ecology, biology and physics. In the humanities, the core curriculum includes language arts, history, geography, civics and economics. Additionally, students learn:

●How to use language to describe our world.
●The natural history of the Skykomish/Snohomish Watershed.
●How to collaborate, including through teamwork and peer review.
●How to use mathematics to solve problems.
●Place-based study of history and geography.
●The methodology of science, both in the laboratory and field.
●Practical outdoor skills, including essential safety skills.
●How to give quality presentations, both orally and in written form.
●Environmental problems and solutions.
●How to use art to capture images and feelings.
●Environmental sustainability.
●The mental habits and physical tools of scientists.

Learning Environment

Student learning takes place in a small, focused setting. Our schedule is designed to provide students with both independent and directed project work. Mentoring and skill development are built into our day, and staff are also available to assist, outside of scheduled class times, with content and skill tutoring as it relates to our program. Additionally, we provide technology instruction workshops and regularly incorporate the visual arts into our projects.


Our high staff to student ratio allows to focus on the learning needs of individual students and to provide them with regular feedback, and we regularly conference with students and parents to help facilitate academic progress. Our goal is to build a community of students, parents, and staff such that each student’s talents are nurtured to achieve the highest levels of performance.

Standards and Curriculum


Our science curriculum follows the standards outlined by the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The primary focus of the learning standards is the understanding and application of core scientific content. Our approach reflects this focus. Class and field learning is applied to science, research, and community service projects. Current environmental and social issues are explored, analyzed, and discussed in class, and multi-step problem solving is a common part of many of the things we do. We strive to incorporate 21st century skills into our curriculum and teach science from an evidence-based inquiry approach.

Admission Requirements

To be successful in the Environmental Studies School, entering students should meet the following grade level requirements:

Language Arts: Middle school students should be reading at or above grade level, with the ability to read critically. (In general, students who read regularly, especially fiction, are well prepared for this program.) Additionally, they should meet grade level writing standards and be able to write a structured essay with strong paragraphs. High school students should regularly be reading novels, and in their writing, should be able to write a multi-paragraph paper in which they can defend their thesis.

Sciences: Middle school students should enter with 6th grade math complete, and be ready for pre-algebra. Additionally, they should be able to meet NGSS for the elementary sciences, including in the physical sciences the study of force, motion, matter, energy; in the life sciences, the classification of living things; and in earth and space sciences, the study of land types, weather and planetary systems. High school students should have grade level life sciences and physical sciences.

Note that while the ESS program for middle schoolers is complete as it includes mathematics, high schoolers must take both mathematics and their foreign language requirement through the Parent Partnership program—or offsite— to meet grade level standards.


In addition to these entrance requirements, potential students should be aware that the pace of work in Environmental Studies School is generally fast. Accordingly, self-motivated students tend to do well. Additionally, weekly field activities include moderate paced hiking; those students who include physical activity in their daily lives will find themselves well prepared to keep up. Finally, those students who do best in the Environmental Studies School tend to be those who are internally motivated to be there: such students find the subject matter engaging, challenging and rewarding.

Weekly Schedule Sample:

Tuesday and Thursday

  • Morning class meeting.
  • Science investigations and labs.
  • Language arts and social studies activities.
  • Reading and technology instruction.
  • Student-driven project work time.
  • Mathematics


  • Field experience, generally off-site, but sometimes within walking distance in the community.
  • Field project work.
  • Natural science lectures
  • Physical Fitness

Wednesday and Friday

  • Students enroll in SVEC Parent Partnership class offerings, including math and other electives.
  • Students may work on studies at home or in the community.


Environmental Studies School counts for 5 weight of classes. Enrollment in any specialty program at Sky Valley Education Center is considered full time and is not eligible for shared enrollment with any other public school. Shared enrollment is available in our Parent Partnership Program. For more information, contact Maggie Jacobs in the main office (360-804-2700).

How do parents get involved?


As with every program at Sky Valley Education Center, parents partner with our school to take responsibility for a portion of their students’ education, as our offerings are not a traditional full time program. There are a wide variety of opportunities for parents to get involved at Sky Valley Education Center. Parents are welcome to sit in on their students’ classes, or to attend the field trips. We rely on fundraising to help support student field-trips, especially the end-of-year trip, and as well as to provide additional funds for field equipment. Please note that parents are required to provide transportation to and from school.


Contact Maggie Jacobs, Sabrina Shaw or Natasha Zimmers for further information!

Sky Valley Education Center
351 Short Columbia
Monroe, WA 98272

Sabrina Shaw

Natasha Zimmers

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