Every year, Earth Day provides an opportunity to celebrate our planet, our environmental heroes, and the many efforts around the globe aimed at protecting, preserving, and sustaining the Earth. Here in AUSD, we also want to acknowledge the fantastic work being done in our schools to protect not only our local environment, but also our regional, national, and global ecosystems.
As many of you know, all of our schools currently support a sophisticated garbage sorting system through which students and staff divide their waste into green waste (compostable), recycling (glass, paper, metal, and plastics), and trash (primarily plastic). Since 2009, the district's overall recycling rate has increased from 41% to about 70%. As a result, the amount of trash the district sends to landfills has plummeted, as has the amount of methane (a potent greenhouse gas) produced when that trash breaks down.
In 2014, AUSD won a Golden Bell Award from the California School Boards Association for this work. This year, Bay Farm School won a prestigious Green Ribbon Award from the U.S. Department of Education for both its impressive 85% diversion rate and its Outdoor Learning Center, which is managed by a full-time garden teacher who regularly teaches the students about plants, gardening, nutrition, and cooking. Bay Farm School was the only individual public school to win in California this year. The school will be honored in a ceremony in our nation's capital, Washington, D.C., in July.
Restoring the Shoreline, Planting Gardens
A number of other AUSD schools are also doing amazing green work. For instance, environmental science students at Lincoln Middle recently unveiled a sign supporting their efforts to replace invasive species with native species along the bay. Those efforts have been undertaken as part of the school's designation as an Ocean Guardian school by the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration. To date, LMS students have removed 232 pounds of trash and 6886 square feet of non-native invasive plants from the shoreline. In their place, the students have planted 195 native plants which will help attract beneficial native insects, birds, and small animals.
Most of our elementary schools — and several of our middle and high schools — now have school gardens where students learn not only how plants grow, but also valuable lessons about nutrition, sustainability, and cooking. Last summer, Island High Students restored the garden at Woodstock Child Development Center (the district's preschool). This year, the Alameda Science and Technology Institute is expanding its beautiful garden to include a fruit-bearing orchard. This Sunday (April 24), Haight Elementary School will be holding a Garden Work party from 10 am – 2 pm to work on their school plot. Contact email@example.com for more information.
Many of our schools have gone the extra green mile in honor of Earth Week. Edison Elementary School, for instance, is collecting old sneakers to be recycled into new playgrounds. Paden Elementary School just introduced a new "green" opportunity for play -- two sheds full of recycled business waste including all shapes and sizes of plastic bins, cardboard boxes, electronics, and more. (You can see a video of students building and creating with these materials here.) Wood Middle School has been holding waste reduction competitions between the grade levels; today, students will also receive seed paper that they can soak in water to generate wildflowers.
Reducing Energy Use
Every school in the district is also now part of a district-wide effort aimed at reducing its energy use. Through a contract with Cenergistic, AUSD is implementing a conservation program aimed primarily at changing employees' behavior (e.g., turning off lights and powering down computers and copiers when not in use) and precisely tracking data related to energy use. The program is expected to help the district save more than $750,000 over the next five years – money that is far better spent on classroom programs than wasted energy.
At the same time, school modernization projects completed through our Measure I program will include energy efficiency upgrades wherever possible. This in turn will also generate financial savings by reducing the amount of energy and water the district uses on an annual basis, as well as reduce the district's carbon footprint.
"Environmental education – whether it's in a classroom, a lunchroom, or a school garden, or along an island's shoreline, park, or street – helps students learn about science, stewardship, teamwork, and community building," says Superintendent Sean McPhetridge. "AUSD is working hard to invigorate our efforts in science education across the district and throughout the grades, and there is really no better way to contextualize science learning than helping students and teachers explore and investigate our relationships with our planet and our Bay Area's abundant natural resources. I am so proud of our students, teachers, staff, and families who partner to honor our natural world."