In partnership with the Zero Waste Schools Program, SEI helps schools in Marin County, California, reach their zero waste goals. Our schools compost organic materials, recover edible food, and educate students about waste sorting practices. But none of these initiatives would be possible without our zero waste superheroes: the custodians!
Helping with waste reduction, sorting, and pick up, custodians are the people who make zero waste initiatives possible and move them forward behind the scenes. We are so grateful for their work. Our team is proud to spotlight three custodians who are doing an outstanding, above-and-beyond job supporting students on their waste sorting journey.
Waste audit conducted by Summit Shasta's Environment Club
Spearheaded by their co-leaders, Timothy Lee and Trinity Ly, Summit Shasta‘s Environment Club conducted a four-day waste-sorting audit (seeing what waste could have been recycled or composted rather than thrown into the trash) to educate the school community on the importance of recycling and composting. Their resulting campaign was announced a winner of the of SEI's Earth Day Challenge.
Graphic from Sam Huang's sustainability campaign
When I met Sam Huang, a senior at Rosemead High School in Rosemead, CA, their passion for encouraging climate action shone through immediately. Though just a few days from graduation, Sam was thinking about how to support their garden club with summer volunteer work before heading off to college to study education. Sam and I spoke soon after they were announced as the Southern California winner of SEI's Earth Day Challenge for their social media campaign urging their school community to improve their local and global environments through small changes to their daily habits.
By Alaitz Aritza
SEI staff presents on air quality mapping at virtual teacher training
While conducting outreach for SEI’s Air Quality Education Program, I met with Dawn Castillo, a teacher on a special assignment focused on building science curriculum in the Sweetwater Union School District. Dawn asked if she could hold on to one of SEI’s air quality testing kits, with the hope that she might be able to interest one or two teachers at her district in participating in SEI’s air quality education program down the line.
The curriculum Dawn requested focuses on air quality and environmental justice. Our team’s goal is to share this curriculum with teachers, free of charge, and give them the necessary resources to implement the curriculum in their classrooms. In particular, we hoped to share our air quality curriculum with teachers and students who are disproportionately impacted by poor air quality, so we were thrilled to have Dawn on board to help us recruit teachers from the Sweetwater District. In addition to curriculum, we also supply teachers with air quality testing kits and professional guidance for troubleshooting the equipment. During air quality lessons, students engage with an online mapping application to track local and regional air quality before developing an action plan to address these issues in their communities.
By Fernando Gil
In spring 2021, SEI hosted a virtual Energy Challenge, giving students a fun opportunity to learn about energy conservation, help spread awareness about energy use and climate change, and win scholarships to support their future college and career goals. In partnership with Whitehorse School in the Navajo Nation, Swinerton Renewable Energy, and Heart of America, SEI made this programming available to students fully offline, as 80% of students there do not have access to the Internet at home. This meant creating alternatives for all the online aspects of the original challenge, including educational resources and ways for students to share their work. The transition was a success as Whitehorse seniors were able to engage with content and launch creative energy conservation campaigns including presentations, poems, and infographics.
Energy Conservation Poem by Xavier Martin
Energy Campaign Reflection by Diana Whitehair
By Giselle Serafin and Jessica Redden
Eco Club co-founders Beatrix and Nana
Nana and Beatrix both started at John Burroughs High School in the fall of 2020 - right in the middle of the pandemic. They had met in middle school, where they were Co-Presidents of the Activism Club. The two decided to start an Eco Club, narrowing their focus to the environment because of its many ties to other issues they are passionate about. As Eco Club Co-Founders and Co-Presidents, Nana and Beatrix have created an impressive community wide environmental stewardship effort, all through online platforms, while only in their freshman year of high school.
In fall of 2020, the Eco Club participated in SEI’s Energy Challenge, and created a campaign that educated their fellow students about the importance of conserving energy through social media posts, videos and posters. They were ultimately the winners of the challenge!
Eco Club's posters from their Energy Challenge Campaign
Driven by the capabilities of community education, Nana noted how participating in the challenge helped them learn different skills,“We found the Energy Challenge and got more inspired on how to use skills to advocate like on social media.” As winners, they used their prize money to buy reusable tote bags which they plan to sell and raise funds for their club and also to buy gifts as a thank you to frontline workers in their community.
By Fernando Gil
Following the 2020 Energy Challenge, our team at SEI’s Energize Schools program was looking for new ways to get students excited about participating in our Earth Day Challenge. We wanted to find an engaging and entertaining way to educate students about environmental issues and their possible solutions. To me, the obvious choice was a video game.
Creating a video game hadn’t been feasible for SEI in the past, but my background in coding and engineering provided the missing pieces to make it a reality. My concept was simple, a 2D platformer (like Super Mario) with levels for different topics we wanted to cover for Earth Day. Named “Duckie’s Adventures: Earth Day,” students play as a duck who uses their knowledge of sustainability to tackle several environmental issues.
By Giselle Serafin
Smoke from the 2020 California wildfires. Photo: NASA
Throughout the devastating 2020 fire season in California and beyond, students felt the direct impact of extreme poor air quality in real time. This experience brought up a lot of questions, curiosity, and concerns about the impact of air pollution on themselves, their families, and their communities.
In January SEI worked with 7th grade science classes at Black Diamond Middle School in Antioch, California to bring SEI’s Air Quality curriculum to their classes. Through this curriculum, students are introduced to air quality science, air quality monitoring the intersection of air quality and environmental justice, and air quality policy. To make the classroom content more engaging, students learn about local air quality issues and solutions employed by nearby community organizers. Wrapping up their air quality lessons, these students were guided through an action planning project to help improve the air quality in their community.
After Black Diamond students completed their air quality project, SEI followed up with a survey to understand what they took away from learning about air quality and its impact on their community. When asked “Do you believe that as an individual, you have the ability to reduce air pollution? Why or why not?,” students responded with a nuanced understanding of the roles of individuals, communities, and professionals in implementing air pollution reduction strategies. Although students were ready to take on individual actions like biking or carpooling, many also noted that it is up to everyone to take part in change. Here are some student reflections on the question:
By Yesenia Perez
A geographic information based system, ArcGIS collects, analyzes and interprets data to create a map that can explore real world environmental problems. It is a powerful and engaging tool that is used in a variety of career fields, but usually not taught to students until environmentally focused college courses.
ArcGIS is a tool that can prompt exploration of the Earth’s geography and natural systems and fosters critical thinking. Bringing ArcGIS into high school classrooms revitalizes traditional environmental science lessons. Furthermore, it is a way to introduce a technical tool that is a highly advantageous skill set and important exposure for high school students preparing themselves for future career pathways.
Last fall, the Energize School’s team reimagined the Watersheds and Public Water Systems curriculum to work for virtual learning with support from NOAA's Bay Watershed and Training program. This curriculum incorporates ArcGIS as a tool for students to map their local watershed. With each step of the mapping process students explore their watershed more deeply and create a visual representation of their understanding layer by layer, data piece by data piece. In this application, ArcGIS can be used to identify, analyze and mitigate human impacts on watersheds.
By Jessica Redden
Career Technical Education (CTE) prepares high school students for their future careers by integrating academic knowledge and technical job skills. Introducing students to careers early sets them up for success in their professional futures! SEI’s Energize Schools program works with teachers and schools to offer Career Technical Education opportunities. Here are some ways that any school can bring CTE to their students:
1. Implement a lesson or unit aligned with CTE standards
There are 15 CTE sectors that intersect with all education disciplines. No matter what you teach there are opportunities to bring career aligned activities into your classroom. Utilize the Energize Schools Curriculum Library to start planning your CTE, NGSS, and Common Core aligned lessons and units.
2. Adopt a CTE Pathway
CTE pathways allow students to deeply explore career opportunities and develop relevant career skills, preparing them for the workforce. Before adopting a pathway, research your local labor market trends; it is best to adopt pathways relevant to your community job needs. One nationally growing field is the energy, environment, and utilities sector. In 2018, and 2019, clean energy jobs outnumbered fossil fuel jobs nearly 3 to 1 across the US and 5 to 1 in California respectively according to the E2 CA Clean Jobs Report. Utilize SEI’s energy, environment, and utilities sector courses Innovations in Green Technology and Energy and Environmental Design to jumpstart an energy and power technology pathway at your school!
Students in Antioch High Schools IGT class solder solar USB chargers
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