Students at Altamont Creek Elementary in Livermore Valley Joint USD have two outdoor garden instruction areas.
These CA green schools show students how to create environmental change
May 2, 2022
On Earth Day, April 22, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond announced that 18 schools, two school districts, and one county office of education earned 2022 California Green Ribbon Schools awards. Among the state honorees are five “Green Achievers” nominated by Thurmond to receive U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools recognition. The U.S. Department of Education has confirmed all five Green Achievers as ED-GRS honorees, recognized for conserving resources while promoting health and environmental literacy. California’s honorees are among 27 schools, five districts and four postsecondary institutions being honored nationally.
“This year, California Green Ribbon Schools maintained sustainable practices and environmental education through the unprecedented challenges created by the global pandemic,” Thurmond said, in a news release. “Their flexibility and ingenuity helped them produce leading-edge models for improved indoor air quality, well-designed outdoor classrooms, and meaningful environmental education. I also want to recognize that more than half of our award-winning sites are within some of the state’s highest-needed communities. We are proud of how California’s Green Ribbon Schools provide our students with the skills needed to lead impactful environmental change in their local areas.”
California’s 2022 ED-GRS honorees are detailed below.
Altamont Creek Elementary
Altamont Creek Elementary systematically integrates sustainability into the curriculum, focusing on improving health and wellness, reducing waste, and empowering the community as problem solvers and part of the solution. In 2017, Altamont Creek created a model solid-waste program to reduce waste and increase food recovery and donation. Students collected data about how much food was being shared during the lunch period by tallying and categorizing how many items were put on and taken from the lunchroom share table. The school collected and donated unwanted food from the share table and surplus food from the kitchen to a local food pantry. In the 2019–20 school year, Altamont Creek saved and utilized 2,632 pounds of surplus food.
The school’s science curriculum teaches students about agriculture through hands-on activities in the two outdoor garden instruction areas. In addition, all first- through fifth-grade students at Altamont Creek receive instructional time in the school’s garden accompanied by California Next Generation Science Standards-aligned lessons taught in their classroom or the school’s science lab. The school’s science teacher extends garden lessons to integrate environmental concepts and create place-based investigations.
Katella High School
Katella High School models and educates students about the importance of being stewards of their environment through site improvements and educational programs. The KHS Sustainable Garden and Learning Center serves as a place to extend teaching and learning in context with hands-on activities. Science courses use the site for lab experiments in soil quality testing, seed germination and the water cycle.
KHS connects students with green careers by partnering with Anaheim’s Innovative Mentoring Experience Program and the City of Anaheim Public Utilities. Mentors work with students to inform and prepare them for what is needed to work for the City of Anaheim in various green careers such as urban planning, electrical engineering for energy conservation, water conservation strategies and waste management.
In 2016, KHS was a recipient of the state’s Drought Response Outreach Program for Schools grant. The work funded by the grant established KHS as a water reclamation site designed to collect, filter, and recycle water from storms. In addition, the campus landscape was upgraded to native plant species, drought-tolerant shrubs, trees, vegetative bioswales and sanded pathways. The school’s “Katella Talks” program provides all students the opportunity to conduct research, create a speech and present on a subject of their choice. Fellow students judge the talks for selection to be recorded and put on YouTube. Since the program’s beginning in 2015, there has been a significant increase in talks that focus on environmental issues and sustainability, including human population growth, climate change and recycling.
Merced Union High School District
Merced Union High School District focuses on conservation and preparing its students for green careers. In 2016, MUHSD’s Green Technology and Energy Conservation students collaborated with the California Conservation Corps to perform energy audits on all district campuses. Students used data from energy audits to advocate that the school board add on-site solar to all seven campuses. With the information presented by the students, the district decided to install parking-area solar panels for each school under a power purchase agreement with no upfront cost to the district.
Prior to COVID-19, school gardens provided cafeterias with fresh fruits and vegetables and fresh eggs raised by Future Farmers of America students. During the pandemic, the district donated approximately 800 pounds of harvested produce to rescue missions and food banks to help those in need. The team is using the ED-GRS application as a template to guide their work in creating a campus that is environmentally sustainable, encourages STEM innovations and uses greener technologies.
Suisun Valley School
Suisun Valley School enriches its educational program with agriculture and science on its two-acre farm. A full-time agriculture and science teacher designs and coordinates lessons and project-based learning activities to engage students in caring for all aspects of the school’s garden. SVS combines food, nutrition and physical health education in a partnership between the agriculture and science teacher and the physical education team. Teachers link what students are growing and eating in the garden to health education focused on nutrition and movement. Students participate in the entire farm-to-fork cycle, directly linking healthy soil, healthy produce, healthy food choices, healthy humans and a healthy planet.
All campus landscape is xeriscape, and site irrigation uses targeted drip systems, allowing for specific areas to be watered while maximizing water conservation and absorption. Sixth-grade students designed and currently maintain two 2,500-gallon cistern rain harvester systems that function with solar and wind energy. In 2019, SVS built an 8,000-square-foot library, office, staff workspace, and Innovation Lab complex using state-of-the-art materials and systems with an emphasis on plumbing, insulation, natural lighting, natural colors and views that allow the building’s occupants to connect with the surrounding landscape. In 2021, the complex received the Outstanding Project award from Learning by Design Awards of Excellence.
St. Martin of Tours Academy (private)
In 2015, St. Martin of Tours Academy became the first Catholic elementary school in the nation to be declared a Fair-Trade School by Fair-Trade Campaigns. Through the Fair-Trade curriculum, the whole school community learns how Fair-Trade practices support small farmers and artisans who make or grow products in developing countries in an environmentally sustainable way. SMA has an increased focus on reduced water use due to California’s drought. The school has replaced landscaping with drought-tolerant plants, rocks and mulch throughout the property.
SMA’s Sustainable Practices Policy has eliminated single-use plastic and Styrofoam. At SMA, bins are placed in the two courtyards to collect organic waste, which is placed in the three-bin compost system to complete the composting cycle. Students learn how to sustain an organic garden, which provides many opportunities for community outreach as well as environmental and life science curriculum goals. The science curriculum blends hands-on investigations, literacy-rich activities and interactive digital tools to empower students to think, read, write and argue like scientists and engineers.
All California Green Ribbon School Awardees Public Schools
  • Altamont Creek Elementary, Livermore Valley Joint Unified, Alameda County (Green Achiever)
  • Katella High, Anaheim Union High, Orange County (Green Achiever)
  • Suisun Valley Elementary, Fairfield-Suisun Unified, Solano County (Green Achiever)
  • Bella Mente Montessori Academy, Vista Elementary, San Diego County (Silver)
  • Captain Leland Norton Elementary, San Bernardino City Unified, San Bernardino County (Silver)
  • Eisenhower Senior High, Rialto Unified, San Bernardino County (Silver)
  • Ernest Garcia Elementary, Rialto Unified, San Bernardino County (Silver)
  • Jefferson Elementary, Carlsbad Unified, San Diego County (Silver)
  • Kelley Elementary, Rialto Unified, San Bernardino County (Silver)
  • Meiners Oaks Elementary, Ojai Unified, Ventura County (Silver)
  • Nancy R. Kordyak Elementary, Rialto Unified, San Bernardino County (Silver)
  • Parkview Elementary, Hueneme Elementary, Ventura County (Silver)
  • Twin Rivers Charter, Yuba City Unified, Sutter County (Silver)
  • Edward Fitzgerald Elementary, Rialto Unified, San Bernardino County (Bronze)
  • Fulton and Alsbury Academy of Arts and Engineering, Lancaster Elementary, Los Angeles County (Bronze)
  • Henry Elementary, Rialto Unified, San Bernardino County (Bronze)
  • Raymond Temple Elementary, Centralia Elementary, Orange County (Bronze)
Local Educational Agencies
  • Merced Union High School District, Merced County (Green Achiever)
  • Santa Cruz County Office of Education, Santa Cruz County (Silver)
  • San Mateo Union High School District, San Mateo County (Bronze)
Private Schools
  • St. Martin of Tours Academy, San Diego County (Green Achiever)
A “Flip the Switch” event was held at El Capitan High School in the Merced Union High School District to mark the district’s switch to solar. The arrays installed at all MUHSD sites will generate 90 percent of the district’s energy needs.
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