Date of Award

May 2015

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Urban Education

First Advisor

Barbara L. Bales

Committee Members

Raji Swaminathan, Raquel Farmer-Hinton, Jennie Lane, Felicia Saffold


Ecopedagogy, Empowerment, Environmental Literacy, Transformation, Urban Education, Youth Participatory Action Research


The field of environmental education (EE) has the aim of producing an environmentally literate citizenry that is not only aware of environmental problems, but motivated to work towards their solution (Stapp, 1969). However, much of the U.S. EE curricular focus has been on understanding the biophysical environment with rural populations, with little discussion about the environmental problems created by the dominant Western cultural norms (Kenis, & Mathijs, 2012; Malone, 2006; Prakash,1995). This study suggests in order to truly develop environmentally literate citizens who will work to change the oppressive habits of our dominant culture, people must be willing to enter into discourse to understand and be empowered to work towards a solution. As the birthplace of critical pedagogical movements, urban educators have much to offer the field of EE as they have been working to empower marginalized populations in meaningful ways for decades (Anyon, 1980; Freire, 1970; Ladson-Billings, 1994; Ye, Valrelas & Guajardo, 2011). This research study drew from the critical pedagogical movement and examined how the notions of ecopedagogy, empowerment and transformation overlapped to develop environmentally literacy. Specifically, this qualitative exploratory case study provides insight on the impact one urban high school’s three-credit Youth Participatory Eco-justice Action Research (YPEAR) project had on the development of urban students’ environmental literacy. A diverse mix of nineteen urban high school seniors shared their experiences with the YPEAR process through interviews and discussions. After reviewing the curriculum documents and the transcribed student mid-year interviews, alumni exit interviews and student and staff discussions, the data was coded into categories. Through critical reflection on the initial codes and larger blocks of texts, ten themes were discovered. These themes were then used as a foil from which to understand how the notions of ecopedagogy, empowerment and transformation became manifest in the school’s curriculum, students’ YPEAR project, and ultimately supported students’ development of environmental literacy.