How do you teach a child to live in a climate-changed future? Use the school building and the land beneath it as a learning laboratory.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Green Ribbon Schools award is given for excellence in resource efficiency, health and wellness, and sustainability education.
This week, California Deputy Superintendents Malia Vella and Abel Guillen, U.S. Department of Education’s Glenna Wright-Gallo and other state and local officials visited the school communities of past honorees to highlight their efforts once more through an annual Green Strides Tour. This year’s tour focused on awardees in north and central California, and it continued through Thursday.
‘A living learn-scape’
With over 100 campuses in San Francisco, the district is the second largest landowner in the city, said Vanessa Louise Carter, Environmental Literacy and Climate Resilience Program Administrator with the district.
“I like to look at it as a living learn-scape,” she said. “My interest is in being the bridge between the facilities and curriculum instruction departments.”
Our built environment generates 40 percent of annual global CO2 emissions, according to the environmental group Architecture 2030.
Opportunities to learn happen district wide, said Carter.
“Whether it’s solar panels, or whether it’s reducing hardscape and increasing groundwater infiltration, or if it’s swapping out all of our old boilers that are natural gas powered, or heat pumps going all electric,” she said.
Abraham Lincoln High School senior Dioscoro Hernandez first heard about climate change in elementary school.
“From that point on, it just stuck in my head,” he said. He wasn’t angry though.
“I was more, like, scared. I fear what’s going to happen in the future if we just don’t fix this, because, you know, I have a future. I don’t want to be messed up. I don’t want to be, like, all dystopian. Like what you see in movies.”
Hernandez is enrolled in Lincoln’s Green Academy, a three-year track that combines ecology, economics and design. It was originally funded with a grant through the California Partnership Academy.
Today Hernandez sees a future for himself in the environmental sector.
“I want to study environmental science. I know that I want to probably go into something like urban planning, something that just helps improve communities, represent them or have their voice heard, and be sustainable at the same time,” he said.
“I was more, like, scared. I fear what’s going to happen in the future if we just don’t fix this, because, you know, I have a future. I don’t want to be messed up. I don’t want to be, like, all dystopian. Like what you see in movies.”Dioscoro Hernandez, Abraham Lincoln High School senior
Lincoln’s Green Academy teacher Valerie Ziegler is finding ways to embed her students in engineering and architectural design. She sees plenty of opportunities for learning right in their building, which opened in 1940.
“We did a walkthrough of the campus last week and identified all the potential places where we have water runoff,” she said, adding that parts of the buildings drains are disconnected and tend to flood. “We have a water catchment system that hasn’t worked since before the pandemic and then the raccoons got to it.”
The city’s Public Utility Commission is looking at some new technology used in ballparks that store water using an underground catchment system.
“I was like, this is amazing! I hadn’t even heard of that,” said Ziegler. “We are in the planning stages of getting that grant here at Lincoln, doing some of that work and having the kids involved in our engineering class.”
Ziegler’s 11th graders designed a green space for San Francisco’s Treasure Island that is multipurpose.
“When we presented to local engineers, architects and community leaders, some of the judges were fascinated,” she said. “They asked, ‘How did you guys think to put in a consignment or thrift shop?’ And the kids said, ‘Because we talked to people that live on there, and that doesn’t exist.”
Why is a thrift shop part of environmental design? It’s because they recycle things.
“They recycle furniture, electronics, clothes, basically, you know, they also got like vinyl or CDs or things,” said Hernandez.
“Now that I’m here and we’re doing things with the environment, we’re actually addressing solutions. It doesn’t feel so anxious to me.”Valerie Ziegler, Lincoln’s Green Academy teacher Valerie Ziegler
The district’s programs also help students to imagine themselves finding a role in a future economy based in climate solutions, which helps them deal with climate anxiety.
Ziegler said one of her students said that her parents were not aware of the issues surrounding climate, “They were always so dumb about it,” she told her. “Now that I’m here and we’re doing things with the environment, we’re actually addressing solutions. It doesn’t feel so anxious to me.”
Seventeen-year-old Hernandez described the weight his generation feels with being charged with acting on climate change.
“We are barely in this world, and we’re the ones that have to combat it.”