Milton Villarroel

EPI Teacher Describes How He Uses Sustainability in the Classroom

Posted on December 15, 2022 by Jessica Boyd

Milton Villarroel next to conference sign

As exchange teachers, EPI Program Members bring not only their cultures to the American classroom, but also their unique perspectives and passions – a mantle that has been enthusiastically taken up by Milton Villarroel since coming to the USA from Bolivia. A veteran EPI teacher and proud advocate for sustainability education, Villarroel has shared this expertise with his US community through research presentations and incorporating sustainable development concepts into his lessons. His accomplishments in the field include presenting at the Sustainable Development Summit in New York, speaking at the 2019 International Conference on Sustainable Development, and publishing an essay in “Cat’s Cradle,” a local literary magazine in Gaston County, North Carolina.

Here Villarroel details how sustainability informs his teaching practices, and he provides information on his recent initiative – bringing the Global Schools Program to his host school, North Gaston High School in Dallas, North Carolina. 

Tell us about yourself and your teaching background: What do you teach? How did you get into education? What is your favorite part about teaching?

I always tell my students, “I like school so much that I never left.” I think that it summarizes my life as an educator. Shortly after high school graduation, I was offered a job at the most prestigious binational language center in La Paz, Bolivia. I followed up that experience by majoring in linguistics, which led to my passion for languages and human communication. Since then, I have specialized in teaching languages and, contrary to what most people say, I glided into my professional career without the traditional changes of heart or second thoughts.

La Paz, BoliviaEducation, for me, is the biggest part of my life and, as such, I consider it to be  the most important part of human civilization.

My favorite part about teaching is the interaction of people inside a classroom, which can be anything we want it to be. One minute, the foreign language class becomes a restaurant, where students are ordering their food using a foreign language, and the next minute it becomes an airplane that is taking them to far away lands, where they will use the target language in the real world. It is this use of the imagination and the development of my students’ skills in the time we have together that makes education the core of modern human civilization.

How did you find the EPI program and what has your experience teaching in the USA been like?

I found EPI through my wife’s Facebook account. She found the offer of employment, and I followed it up with my application. It has been a life-changing experience. Teaching in the USA has been one of the most challenging, yet rewarding experiences I have ever had during my career. The challenges are many, from adjusting to a new community to adjusting to the new work environment, but the teacher is rewarded with building community with students and colleagues. Today, there is practically no place I go to where I don’t hear my name or see a friendly waving hand, and it makes me feel at home.

In addition to more traditional teaching initiatives, you’ve also demonstrated a real passion for sustainability. How did you get into the sustainability field and what inspires you about it?

I have been an advocate of preserving our planet since I was a student in school. It was only natural that as soon as the United Nations launched initiatives like the Brazil Summit or, more recently, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), I would jump on the bandwagon. I learned about SDGs in Bolivia, and I immediately understood the importance it had for the future of all humanity. There are 17 goals, and Goal 4 is entirely dedicated to education. Each goal is interrelated with all the other 16 goals. It was logical to conclude that the classroom was the perfect platform to reach most students and link all their interests to the global goals. Not only that, the language class specifically is the best environment to visit each of the goals and constantly remind our students about their potential positive impact on tomorrow’s world.

Sustainable Development Goals graphic

How do you see your sustainability work and research informing your teaching?

The Sustainable Development Goals have enriched my class beyond the actual language lesson. It has helped me reach students more easily by touching their areas of interest. For example, when I teach the unit about food, I start the unit by watching a short video about the struggle against hunger and famine around the world, and I get students to pay more attention to the lesson in case they will ever need to communicate with people around the world whose language of communication is Spanish.

Also, sustainability in education is planning a class that will be memorable, that students can remember beyond the sound of the bell or the test or quiz and can apply the lesson to their personal lives.

One of your recent initiatives is implementing the Global Schools Program in your host school, North Gaston High School. What is the Global Schools Program? How did you discover it?

I will preface this answer by saying that the Sustainable Development Goals are great initiatives discussed in the Plenary Session of the United Nations every September, and although the ideas are brilliant and the objectives are some of the most altruistic for the planet, they are still goals. Without action, these goals and ideas remain just ideals. 

The Global Schools Program isGroup of students holding up a globe the engine that makes the sustainable goals a reality. In the words of Ban Ki-Moon, “The Global Schools Program aims to incorporate sustainable development into schools globally by training volunteers to advocate for the incorporation of the SDGs and global citizenship education into schools in their local communities.”

The Global Schools Program is the initiative of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Solutions Network to achieve results in SDG 4, specifically Target 4.7 that aims at considering education not only a goal but a means of achieving all of the Sustainable Development Goals. 

Our mission is to create a world where every primary and secondary school student is equipped with the knowledge, values, and skills necessary for effectively responding to the greatest challenges of this century and shaping a sustainable and prosperous world. The Global Schools Program has been working internationally to support schools and educators with evidence-informed training and localized classroom resources in order to integrate sustainable development into school curricula, operations, and activities in most countries in Europe, Asia, and Africa. It called my attention that there were very few in the United States relative to the size of the country, and its importance in the global context. So, I embarked on a journey to put my school on the Global Schools map.

Tell us more about your specific role in getting the Global Schools Program in North Gaston High School?

My first role was to apply on behalf of the school, which required the support of my principal, Mr. George Conner III. I had to not only follow up the application, but also take and pass a training course to get all the information that was necessary to represent the Global Schools Program in my school. As a school member, North Gaston gets firsthand information about the global situation and initiatives in which we can cooperate to achieve the rest of the goals in our local community. Faculty get invitations to in-situ and virtual events that will prepare them to include the global goals in their lessons. They are also supported by materials and lesson plans to implement these lessons in their curriculum. Our students also get scholarship information and invitations to events hosted virtually in different parts of the world. My role on this stage is to channel all that information to our students and contribute to their global education and get them to compromise to build a better world in the years to come.

How has getting involved with Global Schools changed your teaching and classroom curriculum? What sustainable development activities have your students been most excited about?

The Global Schools Program has completed my teaching in different ways. It has brought me awareness that we can make positive change in the world by opening the discussion towards finding solutions to the problems the world is confronting nowadays. This is the perfect leadership context that I was looking for to implement our school’s leadership program.

Milton Villarroel holding a Bolivia flagMy students have been involved in different activities that bring awareness towards these important topics. We have created “The Lunch Box,” which is literally a big box where we collect food that would otherwise go to waste and channel it to institutions that welcome them, such as the local Salvation Army. We also created the “Blue Bins,” specific waste baskets where only plastic bottles are collected and taken to recycling facilities; therefore, preventing them from going to pollute rivers or eventually the oceans. This year we are implementing the “We Can” waste baskets, which will collect aluminum cans for the same purpose.

Any advice for teachers who may be interested in implementing a similar sustainable development curriculum in their classroom?

I would like to encourage every one of our teachers to join hands and be part of this global initiative to improve the conditions of the planet we want to leave to the younger generations. I advocate schools are a powerful arm in each community to achieve the objectives by the year 2030. Every school has the potential to be a game changer in each community. It only needs the initiative of the teachers to start making a difference. Don’t forget that the work of each individual makes the work for the entire community and eventually the world.

Hear Villarroel talk about his experiences teaching with EPI in our most recent episode of Launch Your Classroom!, “Teacher Success Stories III.”

Video URL

You can learn more about the Global Schools Program on their website:

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