Friday, October 9 , 2015, 10:50 pm | Fog/Mist 70º

Bill Cirone: Local Partnership Helps Students Learn to Care for Our Planet

By Bill Cirone |

It is self-evident that protecting our planet is crucial to survival. Toward that end, a long-standing local partnership provides grants to local teachers for innovative environmental and science projects that help children learn to care for our Earth while learning science.

The Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District has been a partner with our Teachers Network since 2004, donating $2,500 to $5,000 each year to help further science education. Since then, the Santa Barbara County Water Agency and Pacific Gas & Electric Co. have also joined in this partnership to help support Care for Our Earth Grants.

This year, 42 grants of $250 were awarded to teachers, thanks to the generosity of our community partners.

The Air Pollution Control District’s long-standing support of teachers countywide has had an enormous impact on student learning. The 10-year partnership supports local outstanding teachers; promotes awareness of environmental issues among students, families and members of the community; and shows students and families concrete measures they can take to conserve water and energy, and protect natural resources.

Mary Byrd of the APCD staff is to be congratulated for all her hard work in facilitating the program, and the Air Pollution Control District board of directors deserves our heart-felt thanks for supporting the Teachers Network and local teachers countywide, along with PG&E and the county water agency.

Here are just a few of the projects funded this year, enabling teachers to incorporate multiple subject areas into their lessons:

At Pioneer Valley High School in Santa Maria, Kelly Davis’ students read the novel Speak, which uses trees to symbolize positive and negative events in the narrator’s life, along with several nonfiction articles regarding the ability of trees to reduce air pollution. Students then bring in tree seeds, like those from apples, to plant in the classroom garden. Once the seeds germinate, students take them home to plant and nurture into young trees. They are then encouraged to ask permission to plant their trees at community sites such as parks or churches.

At Hollister School in Goleta, Liz Larsen’s kindergarten students help plan new guttering and rain barrels around campus to collect water runoff from the roofs of various buildings. The installation is strategic, as students must determine the best areas to catch runoff. Collected water is used to water plants around campus.

At Benjamin Foxen School in the Blochman School District, Chad Hartford’s students get a first-hand view of the physical, chemical, and biological processes involved with sewage remediation as they build their own water treatment plant, complete with filtration, aeration and bioremediation.

At Taylor Elementary School in Santa Maria, Michael Zarling’s fourth-graders count the number of LED and fluorescent bulbs in their homes. As fluorescent bulbs burn out, students encourage their parents to replace them with LED bulbs. A school-wide competition sees which grade level can post the highest increase in usage of energy-saving bulbs.

At Maple High in Lompoc, Matt Makowetski’s students examine water production and reclamation in the Lompoc Valley, including production, filtration and waste management. Students also investigate neighboring water facilities, and then produce public service announcements to share what they have learned with the public.

At Dos Pueblos High School in the Santa Barbara Unified School District, John Dent’s students create videos that promote water conservation, record traffic patterns and promote energy-usage awareness. Cameras record drop-off and pickup times at the school, enabling the traffic team to analyze traffic patterns and propose ways to improve traffic flow and increase carpooling and shared transportation. Students also record current energy usage and water consumption on campus to identify ways to make improvements.

At Pioneer Valley High School in Santa Maria, Riccardo Magni’s students use an air meter to monitor ground-level ozone in the school parking lot, comparing levels on hot days, cold days, busy days, and empty days. The data is analyzed and recommendations are made based on the findings.

At Brandon School in Goleta, Lisal Lisle’s fifth-graders learn about watersheds and how litter makes its way to the ocean. They educate fellow students and members of the community to replace disposable plastic products with durable items. Students also develop an educational website that includes graphs and tables of litter pickup and progress, views of the local watershed, persuasive essays and texts to promote durable water bottles and waste-free lunch packing, as well as student-created films on various aspects of the project.

At Carpinteria High, John Avila’s students build a hydroponic system using irrigation lines. The system uses recycled water to nourish native plants the students have planted. The plants are then sold at the local farmers market, where students host a booth and educate the public on water conservation.

At Vieja Valley School in the Hope School District, Andrea Lauderdale and David Nelson have their first-graders learn first about the water cycle and then have their families conduct the “5-Minute Shower Challenge.” They track the time spent in the shower and the amount of water used. They then reduce their shower time to five minutes or less and recalculate the water usage. Cutting a shower from 10 to five minutes can save an average of 40 gallons of water per shower. Students discuss the implications of water consumption and conservation.

These are just a few examples of the scores of projects countywide that help students learn science and caring for our earth. The partnership that makes this possible deserves our thanks, on behalf of the local community and the future generations that will benefit from these efforts.

— Bill Cirone is Santa Barbara County’s superintendent of schools. The opinions expressed are his own.

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