From one end of our coastal community to the other, schools are encouraging and educating youth about environmentalism.
Teachers from elementary schools, middle schools and high schools are hoping to bring ambassadors into our future who are not only informed but are also passionate about sustaining a sound environment.
Teaching environmental consciousness to students comes in many forms, from working organic gardens on campus to classroom studies and field trips.
Peabody Charter School teaches its students about sustainable living by having students help cultivate an organic garden on the San Roque campus, which becomes fresh food for their cafeteria. Roger Earls, a former Peabody teacher, started the garden 14 years ago and he still volunteers his time to help educate the students by teaching them hands-on gardening practices. These techniques, which include composting and the use of beneficial insects and soap solutions for pest control, are habits that he hopes the children will not only urge their parents to implement now but will also continue into adulthood.
Earls also notes that the students are learning the impact of food production. Students recently milled their own wheat and made it into flour to provide bread for the school’s 600 students at lunch. The children were astonished to learn the wheat would have to cover their entire playground for just that one meal.
At Monroe School on the Mesa, sixth-grade teacher Jim Wright believes it is imperative that children be made aware of environmental issues.
“I want these kids to know that the solution to many of our problems, including global warming, begins with us as individuals,” he said.
Wright teaches a global warming class, which covers greenhouse gases, conservation practices and alternative energy. He is hopeful that his students will not only learn about these issues but will carry their studies into the world.
“They can, and must, have a ‘corrective’ impact on it,” he said, “not just by the quiet changes to their lives they decide to make, but by becoming vocal.”
Tiare Dodson, a science teacher at La Cumbre Junior High on the Westside, incorporates ecological awareness into her science course. She notes that students often bring in important questions regarding issues such as global warming, overpopulation and the use of alternative transportation.
“I try to tie world news, local facts and the latest scientific research into classes as often as I can,” she said of her efforts to further educate her students.
Dodson also emphasizes the importance of biodiversity and why protection of our natural habitat and animals is so vital.
“When students start to see their role in the world and how they can positively or negatively affect it, they want to be part of the solution,” she said.
Giving future — and present — conservationists a chance to study in-depth environmentalism in high school, Santa Barbara High offers the Green Academy. Students studying in this “school within a school” learn environmental stewardship, participate in environmental community services, and develop a keen knowledge on local ecological issues.
The Green Academy’s classes include the studies of biology and environmental horticulture in which students engage in long-term projects. Academy director Jose Caballero says it is critical for high school students to have access to such information because high school is the time when they start defining their roles in society and are eager to set priorities.
“They know they need to pay attention, they know we’ve stacked the cards against them and the environment they’ll inherit,” he said. “They know our problems will require their solutions, and they feel the heat, and they want to jump in.”
San Roque School has a formal partnership with Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society and its Ambassadors of the Environment program. The program is based on four principles relating to sustainability: there is no waste in nature, everything is connected, everything runs on energy, and biodiversity is necessary.
The principles are incorporated into the high school curriculum through classroom study of such topics as solar energy, the interconnectedness of ecosystems, and brainstorming solutions to problems of waste and energy consumption. Students also take some of this knowledge out in the field by examining organisms of intertidal zones, monitoring sand crab populations, and even baking cookies in a solar oven.
During the course of the school year students also engage in recycling, composting, beach cleanups, and creating environmental-themed art and films. San Roque teacher Jefferson Litten, who specializes in math and science, helps teach sustainability principles to students on the Upper Eastside campus.
“…Environmentally, I think that the most important lesson I want my students to come away with is that the earth is a fragile place and that we are standing on the brink of an enormously important era in which we are beginning to see large-scale effects of human action on the earth,” he said. “I want the students to know their choices and their practices can tip the scale and change the direction the planet is headed.”
Having teachers educate youth about sustainably aware choices is helping students feel more empowered. And because they are accumulating this knowledge throughout their school years, they are gaining a consciousness that may lead some to become future scientists, conservationists and educators who discover even better solutions.