The Forest School
ORGANIZATION NAME: Casa Pueblo de Adjuntas
LOCATION: Puerto Rico
SUMMARY: The Forest School is an outgrowth of Casa Pueblo, a grassroots citizens’ movement that emerged 35 years ago in Puerto Rico to prevent open-pit mining in the island’s central mountain region. After 15 years of struggle Casa Pueblo succeeded in preventing what would have been irreversible damage to the core of the island’s ecological health and a cascade of destructive socio-economic effects, and helped create Puerto Rico’s first state forest, protecting watersheds and 19 separate landholdings linked by biological corridors, which became Puerto Rico’s National Model Forest, an inspiring model for the global community. Casa Pueblo evolved into a vibrant community organization, one of the key anchors of Puerto Rico’s environmental movement. It founded The Forest School, an institution in the heart of the National Forest, whose curriculum includes agro-ecology and biodiversity, climate change, water and renewable energy, and community development. The Forest School is a uniquely inspiring model—an educational institution that grew out of a grassroots people’s movement to guarantee that future generations would manage the commons sustainably, in perpetuity.
PROBLEM SPACE: With funding from the Goldman Environmental Prize, Casa Pueblo, acquired 150 acres of a high-ecological value land in 2003. This was part of a campaign that has become an exemplar for public and private protection of land. This includes the Forest School that was created to promote environmental education, social awareness and community development that will engender a healthier and more sustainable region, country and ultimately, planet. The Forest School is a model for resource management that is embedded in a bigger project, the Puerto Rico National Model Forest. In 2014, the Puerto Rican government recognized this by law. The Model Forest connects 19 natural reserves in a land-use mosaic of 390,000 acres and 31 municipalities, which include forest areas, people, houses, local businesses, industry, and agriculture. Instead of the traditional concept of conservation, our Model Forest seeks participation, inclusion, and re-insertion of the people into the forest management agenda with the intention of promoting the region’s fair and sustainable development. Under this scenario, the Model Forest represents the greatest opportunity to replicate the Forest School implemented by Casa Pueblo in order to impact the people of Puerto Rico while serving as a model to the rest of the world.
SOLUTION: The Forest School’s primary objective is to provide an alternative, complementary, humanizing, and multidisciplinary educational program to empower students and the youth generation of Puerto Rico. They are encouraged to think critically and act creatively as a group and community to provide solutions and strategies for supporting natural resources conservation and addressing other challenges in the region. The project is based on the La Olimpia Forest, 150 acres of forest land that has high ecological value, which is located the heart of the Puerto Rico National Model Forest region, in the municipality of Adjuntas and 10 minutes from Casa Pueblo headquarters. The academic curriculum meets the goals and expectations of the Department of Education of Puerto Rico and it is based on three stages of teaching and learning: Exploration, Conceptualization and Application. Students explore new areas of knowledge while using outdoor classrooms and direct contact with Nature. There they challenge the status quo, myths and prior knowledge on topics such as ecology and biodiversity, climate change, water and renewable energy, agroecology and community development. Ultimately, the program fosters the students’ organizational and self-management capabilities by actively empowering and engaging them in their local neighborhoods and districts.