Like most of us, SEI’s Climate Corps Education Outside (CCEO) Fellows have had a strange year. In March, school closures sent this group of outdoor educators out of their Bay Area school gardens and into their living rooms, behind computer screens. Since then, the CCEO program has adapted to the distance learning structures at all of our partner elementary schools, repeatedly returning to a core question: how can we continue to offer students opportunities to engage with science, connect to nature, and interact in hands-on ways with the world around them?
This fall, CCEO Fellows dove headfirst back into the world of distance learning at their schools in San Francisco, San Mateo, and Alameda counties. They are each delivering a full calendar of live classes over Zoom and other platforms to all students at their elementary schools. Fellows have also worked to build a robust library of video lessons that students can watch and learn along with at their own pace. Who could have predicted that filming, starring in, and editing videos would become a critical tool in the toolbox of an environmental educator in 2020?
By Katie Rogers
David Juarez was a student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo when, sitting on a hill overlooking the countryside, he had a vision of himself walking in a solar field. This vision inspired him to graduate with a degree in electrical engineering and interest in renewable energy.
When seeking a career post-college, he was excited to find a fellowship opportunity at the San Mateo Community College district through Climate Corps. He was interviewed by Isaac Knipfing, a former Climate Corps fellow himself. As a fellow, he got to know energy management systems and experienced operations hands-on. “My knowledge of facilities management grew exponentially in my time there,” Juarez reports.
As his fellowship came to an end, the facilities manager from University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), spoke at Climate Corps Facilities training and mentioned they’d be growing their team. SEI worked with UCSF to develop a fellowship position, for which Juarez was a perfect fit.
As a senior fellow, Juarez helped form the energy team at UCSF. He became a full-time employee at UCSF upon completion of his fellowship. Currently, Juarez works on energy and utility projects, such as installing solar at a major hospital in Mission Bay, adding variable frequency drives at another hospital so HVACs are saving as much energy as possible, installing a solenoid valve that saves 500,000 gallons of water each year, and ensuring UCSF sites continue to have power amidst PG&E’s rolling blackouts.
San Diego High School, located in the heart of San Diego, was founded in 1882 and is one of the oldest public high schools in California. The school has a rich history, which includes the construction of a castle-like building called "The Old Gray Castle" in 1907 and the Balboa Stadium in 1914. The San Diego Chargers used the Balboa Stadium as their home field for six seasons. Over the course of its history, San Diego High School has grown in student numbers as the city expanded, and as a result new buildings were built and renovations made. Today, San Diego High School is divided into three small theme-based schools including the School of Business and Leadership, School of International Studies, and the School of Science and Technology serving over 2,500 students.
U.S. Marines creating an American flag at Balboa Stadium in 1932
Image from Wikimedia Commons
Within the School of Science and Technology lives the GeoTech Academy, a small learning community serving students who are interested in focusing their studies on engineering and design rooted in sustainability and clean technologies. As Jackie Rivers, one of the six lead teachers of the academy, described it, “Geotech is a community and one big family. When any of our students are struggling they have a whole dedicated team they can go to”.
By Ryan O'Hara
The 27-acre Eames Ranch is located in the countryside of Petaluma, CA. Among other creatures and curiosities, it’s home to 20 sheep and their famous guard llama, Lulu. Walk to the right of the main building and you’ll see a garden teeming with deliciousness.
The Ranch gets its name from famous mid-century designers Charles & Ray Eames. Specifically, it was the home of their daughter, Lucia Eames. While they are best known for their chairs, the Eameses saw design as problem-solving at a fundamental level. Gathering as much information as possible helped them understand the shape and scope of any problem, which explains why their designs have withstood the test of time. Their “learn by doing” process is ingenious because it truly works, and is one which I have adopted into my own life. It has been an honor and a great pleasure to be at the Ranch, working closely with a small, motivated group.
My biggest project as a Climate Corps Fellow at the Ranch has been establishing baseline data on water usage, energy and more. During my first few weeks our brilliant ranch foreman Adam, installed an app called Sense to monitor our energy use. The Sense app’s real-time energy use graph came in handy for a presentation about energy and lighting. Seeing the live change in energy use between having the lights on and off turned out to be very effective; members of the team told me afterward that they changed their habits after the presentation. This response was encouraging because changing habits is an important means to the end goal of sustainability.
By George Spencer
The Climate Corps Education Outside program is planting the seeds of science and ecoliteracy to grow environmental leaders. We open the classroom door to school gardens that get students connected to the ecosystem around them. Our outdoor classrooms are living laboratories and our students are scientists, who observe their environments, take risks, and drive their own learning through inquiry based lessons.
While the outdoor classroom certainly provides the space for science learning, it also has the hidden benefit of being a bastion of social emotional relief and respite for student regulation and grounding, helping students build inner resilience for a complex world. Sarah Grossman-Kahn is a second year CCEO Fellow, who is passionate about creating this space of refuge for students in her garden classroom. Sarah shared this story with us, from before COVID-19, when Bay Area schools were still open:
By Tyler Valdes and Jessica Redden
As the world came to a halt and schools began to shut down in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, our team at SEI sheltered in our homes along with others including teachers, students, school staff, and their families. Many of us turned on lights and appliances, turned up the air conditioning or heating, plugged in our devices, and made meals with the stove and microwave. From telecommuting to online classes, we are home now more than ever and we are consuming more energy than ever! Remember that oven you hadn't touched for months? Were you one of many (including ourselves) that made banana bread in the first few months of shelter-in-place? Alongside baking, we have all taken on activities that use energy in some shape or form. As students consume energy during stay-at-home orders, it is critical that they are aware of the importance of energy conservation and energy efficient technologies. These energy saving habits will carry on when they return to school and eventually to their own homes or places of work.
Equitable Green Economy Expert, Vien Truong, Shares Career Advice with Emerging Environmental Professionals
By Hernan Gallo
“My goal in life wasn’t really to escape Oakland; it was to understand the tools that I acquired while I was at Berkeley to bring them back home to Oakland and to begin changing the things that were fundamentally unfair and unjust not only for Oakland, but to cities that look like Oakland” - Vien Truong
Truong serves as the Director of Climate Justice for former presidential candidate Tom Steyer’s political action committee and Principal of her firm, Truong & Associates. She holds a background as a policy expert and strategist on building an equitable green economy. She began her keynote address at the virtual Climate Corps Fellow orientation on September 1st by telling her story. Truong grew up in a family of immigrants from Vietnam who left their home country during times of war. Truong’s family landed in Portland, Oregon prior to moving to Oakland, California where her parents worked low-wage jobs in sweatshops while supporting 11 children. Truong grew to love her community in Oakland and always wanted to build up her hometown through sustainability and equity.
Truong spoke about her in-depth background in climate justice, advocating for community electric van share programs, no-cost solar installations, and her experience at the United Nations Climate Change Conference. Of the many lessons she’s learned throughout her career, two of the most important are: “Enter the work with humility and listen to organic intellectuals in the community. People who live in working communities are most proximate to the problems and really fundamentally understand the solutions that will and won’t work better than anyone.”
One of the attendees of the event, Max Jimenez, asked Truong, “What are some challenges you faced when working with different communities? How did you overcome them?” Truong responded, “The hardest part is always remembering who you are and not having to pretend to be something else. Once you’ve got that, I think you’re good. As long as I remember who I am and I wasn’t trying to pretend, I think people understand and see that authenticity.”
Watch Truong’s inspiring keynote address on Youtube
In light of the Fellow orientation being held virtually amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing wildfires across the West, one attendee asked “What do you think is the biggest opportunity to advance climate equity in the next 5 years?” Truong responded,
“We’re gonna be seeing huge investments in climate equity in the next five years. We have commitments that we’re hearing from the presidential nominee on the Democratic side to state governors across the US. With the urgency that we’re seeing around science, and the amount of public pressure to companies, they’re gonna be investing. A low estimate is $5 billion, which is very low. On the high end, we’re talking at least 5 times that amount of money.”
Attendees of the event left inspired by Truong’s words of wisdom and advice, allowing them to push forward with critical climate action work as entry-level and emerging professionals across the US.
To read Vien Truong’s full bio, click here.
Climate Corps is an award-winning fellowship program that provides professional development opportunities for emerging leaders through implementation of sustainability and resiliency projects with local governments, nonprofits, and for-profit businesses. Host organizations receive the support of qualified, passionate, dedicated Fellows, who gain real-world expertise in sustainability project implementation.
By Lawrie Mankoff
During this uniquely challenging school year, teachers are working hard to bring sustainability-focused activities and lessons to students learning from home. Energize Schools is working with educators to include a wide range of environmental topics in their virtual classrooms through engaging, hands-on projects. Over the summer, the Energize Schools team led four virtual teacher trainings on climate change, renewable energy, energy auditing and air quality. Here are five sustainability activities featured in the teacher trainings that you can use for remote learning:
1. Greenhouse effect simulation
An online simulation is a great way to introduce students to the science behind climate change. We use simulations from the Concord Consortium in our curriculum to help students gain an understanding of the greenhouse effect. Students can observe visual representations of carbon dioxide and heat moving through our atmosphere, and the impacts humans have by releasing greenhouse gasses.
2. Easy energy auditing
Energy auditing may seem like a difficult project to bring to students in their homes, but it can be as easy as instructing students to observe the appliances in their space. After making a list of energy users in their homes, students can check appliances for tags with power rating, use data in SEI curriculum on average energy usage, or research online to calculate their energy consumption and costs.
3. Explore renewable energy by building a water wheel
A simple way for students to model a real world source of renewable energy is by creating their own water wheel out of whatever household materials they choose. Students can get creative using different materials to create their own water wheel, and learn how these models compare to real world hydropower. Marc Wheeler, a teacher from Woodside High School, made his water wheel using a CD and candle holders!
4. Learn about environmental justice through air quality maps
CalEnviroScreen is a powerful tool that allows students to see what areas of California are most burdened with pollution, alongside population characteristics including race and economic status. In exploring CalEnviroscreen air quality maps, students can see a stark overlap between the areas most polluted and where black and brown communities live today as a result of historical redlining and other discriminatory housing practices.
5. Have your students lead a energy conservation campaign
Students can make a difference in protecting the environment by encouraging their communities to save energy. A virtual campaign makes use of social media or other online platforms to spread the word about the importance of reducing our energy usage. One way to have your students explore conservation is through the Energize Schools 2020 Energy Challenge!
All of these activities and more are in the Energize Schools distance learning curriculum, which is free to all teachers. This curriculum can be requested through our distance learning page, and California teachers can also schedule a one-on-one session to plan their virtual sustainability lessons.
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