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In this case study, we see the importance of embracing the power of place to enable a new type of learning as the school community weaves the natural environment into its governance, curriculum, facilities, and community outreach.

Country: Argentina
SDG Region: Latin America and the Caribbean
Sector: Formal education
Keywords: Whole school approach, primary education, project-based learning, local adaptation, participatory approaches

The Whole-School Approach in Action: A Year With Primary School No. 12 Mar Chiquita

The seaside village of Mar Chiquita, in Buenos Aires, Argentina is home to Primary School No. 12. The school’s community takes a whole school approach to sustainability and embraces the natural environment at every level of the school’s activities. 

The Mar Chiquita Lagoon is central to this story. Designated as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1966 for its impressive biodiversity, the lagoon’s significance does not end at its biodiversity.

“For the school, the lagoon – with all its wildlife - has always been the heart of the community and the soul of the district.”

The intertwined nature of the community and environment lies at the heart of this school’s values.

The community’s significant growth since the school was established in 1962, required a new school building to be developed in 2018. A range of stakeholders—including NGOs, private donors, local governments, and more—came together to develop and build the new school building. The new school’s design incorporated the lagoon by moving the building closer to the shore and embracing a radically sustainable design process. The building uses an ‘Earthship’ design, meaning it was constructed from 25 tons of recycled materials and is entirely off-grid, running on solar energy and collecting rainwater. 

“In the process of bringing this new Sustainable School to life, a new local narrative is woven by braiding together at least three main threads: the physical environment, the traditional public primary school, and the sustainable building that brings this educational community together.”

A key part of the learning at the school is the physical building itself, and the school’s environmental values come to the forefront in the daily management of the school building’s physical space. Due to the alternative materials and resources used to build the school, the building itself requires special care. This becomes a point of tension for some staff members as they manage the balance between maintaining the sustainability of the school with the health and wellbeing of the community.

This can be seen in the inability to use regular cleaning products or allow normal washing of paint brushes, because these seemingly insignificant acts could ruin the self-sustaining water and sanitation process, potentially causing a “small-scale ecocide”, as put by one of the teachers. Despite these tensions, the building itself ultimately fosters a sense of harmonious collaboration as students and teachers alike come together to care for their space in a way that is unique from a traditional school building.   


The principal of the school acknowledges individual teachers may face challenges with incorporating sustainability and climate change into their subjects, particularly when there are direct clashes with the prescribed curriculum. ​

The school also grapples with the need to ensure that all students learn the same content as other children in the province to avoid placing them in a disadvantaged position. These tensions may prove difficult for teachers to manage but they still try to balance the curriculum requirements with sustainable values on an ongoing basis.

This case study ultimately highlights the power of deeply adopting a whole school approach in climate change education. By tackling sustainability through multiple avenues, from physical space to curriculum to community engagement to governance, Primary School No. 12 demonstrates how quality climate change education holds the capacity to create more sustainability-focused and collaborative communities that extend beyond the students and teachers of a school.  



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