Students See Opportunity for Environmental Literacy in Green Facility Programs

Students participate in the Energize Schools: Engaging Students in hands on Energy Conservation Projects session at a keynote session during the annual Green California Schools and Community Colleges Summit on October 30, 2018 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by David McNew)

SB 720, signed last year at Governor Brown’s Global Climate Action Summit, made environmental literacy an integral part of California’s education code. A set of Environmental Principles and Concepts are now embedded in the state’s Next Generation Science Standards framework, as well as the health, history and social studies frameworks.

As districts respond to the mandate to incorporate these concepts in classroom lessons, many are taking advantage of the curriculum opportunities in their facility projects. The positive outcomes from this approach extend in many directions.

The current generation of students is keenly aware of the environmental challenges that lie ahead. A lesson based on a real-world instance where a school is “walking the talk” can have real impact, giving both students and teachers a sense of ownership regarding the success of a project.

Timothy Baird, Ed.D., recently retired as the Superintendent of the Encinitas Unified School District, recalls that questions arose from students when the district first installed solar panels. They wanted to know what they were, and why they were showing up on campus.

“It was obvious – of course, this is an educational opportunity,” he recalls. “We brought solar panels into classrooms. We had kids go out and look at them. We started measuring the difference in energy use before and after the installation. We brought energy bills into the classrooms and had kids look at what the solar panels were doing. There was a powerful lesson on energy just because we put in solar panels.”

In more than one instance, students who have become attuned to environmental impacts begin to look around their campuses, to see other areas that need improvement. After studying emission reductions from their school’s solar and energy efficiency programs, Algebra One students in San Mateo county pointed out that school-related transportation created more emissions than their buildings and launched a carpooling and walk-to-school program.

And close to home, the USGBC-LA’s 2019 Legacy Project is teaching students about climate change, resilience and potential sustainable careers through Eco Urban Gardens’ Regenerative Learning Garden.

More examples of what’s working will be highlighted in education sessions at the annual Green California Schools and Community Colleges Summit, coming to the Pasadena Convention Center October 16-17. The event will highlight programs and strategies that are helping California schools become healthier and more efficient. A number of sessions will also address the emerging trend that has grown out of SB70.

The opening keynote session will feature leaders from three districts that are setting the pace for sustainability efforts at campuses around the state: Dr. Baird; Anthony Knight, Ed.D., superintendent of the Oak Park Unified School District and Christos Chrysiliou, director of architecture and engineering services for LAUSD.

Complete information about the conference, which includes an Expo of green products and services for schools, can be found here. USGBC-LA members can obtain a 20% registration discount by using the code “USGBCLA.”

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