Thousand Oaks High School

Thousand Oaks High School, the second school we were able to visit while in the area, was a school with a great recycling program and a well cared for native plant habitat. What really impressed us, though, was their incredible creativity and ability to come up with new sustainable ideas! The group of high schoolers, being one of the few groups we've worked with over the age of 11, were a relatively quiet bunch throughout most of the workshop. Granted its pretty easy to seem quiet compared to a large group of 5th graders, but we were really surprised when it came time for them to brainstorm ideas and execute them on camera. 

We have a slew of excellent ideas from them with a handful of really novel ones we've never heard before! Let's start with the novel...

One of the students must have been remembering her days as a fidgety child trying to sit still at a desk for long periods of time. So how about putting pedals under desks for any kids that need to move their legs before it's time to stand up. This way, the ancy child can release his anxiety to move and the class could potentially generate a little power from the cycling motion. 

I witnessed another student spend 5 minutes trying to convince her group that growing and eating bugs was a good idea. Eventually they gave in and put it down on the poster. It's true! The United States is in the 20% of the world that doesn't eat bugs... consciously anyways. It requires much less land space to produce the same amount of biomass in crickets than in beef. Same goes for water use, amount of feed needed, and emissions contributed. In every single category, bugs are by far a more sustainable protein source. Now we just need to want to eat them...  It just so happens that there are companies starting up to provide insect-based proteins to the 20% in familiar and desirable food products. Even though were currently sponsored by Clifbars, maybe in the future we'll be sponsored by cricket bars.

A third idea we haven't heard before is appropriate for the season. A lot of waste is generated from the holidays which by default adds an extra layer of packaging to any product or gift... wrapping paper. One of the students wants to see widespread sustainable wrapping paper. Maybe that means buying a paper that is sustainably harvested or maybe it means getting creative and giving something a second life such as newspaper or old maps. Either way she wants to see this holiday of love give a little love back to planet Earth.


Brookside Elementary

What an inspiring day we had with 32 5th graders at Brookside Elementary. Every time I think I'm using the description "highly engaged" in the proper place, I am totally surprised by a group that redefines it for us. This day was one of those days that relights the fire when the fuel is starting to run out. You would think that kids might be a little upset about missing their normal break to go run around outside, but instead the response we were hearing mumbled was, "This is starting to get really cool"! At one point, one of the students wanted to shake Marika's hand and thank us for helping the planet. What we can only hope sticks with them is that we are all members of the same team and that what we are doing is entirely dependent on their participation. Go team! 

The school hosts a small garden, a zero waste lunch program, a USagain drop off bin (a donation system for used clothes and fabric), a 'no vehicle idylling' policy within the campus, and of course anthropomorphized crickets like this one.


Brookside Elementary was the only school we were able to spend a day with in the Oak Park Unified School District, the first and only National Green Ribbon School District! Tony Knight, the districts superintendent, has been guiding every single school under his wing towards this distinguishment, knowing the full scope of the benefits sustainability has to offer to his schools. We were able to get an interview with Tony later that day to hear about the prolific amount of projects he's been working with his schools to push through. Just before the interview we were pulled into the principles office at Oak Park High School so we could have a look at the new solar power shade structure they will be installing next year which will provide 20% of the schools power usage. He then led us around to have a look at the new school buildings they recently "installed". Being modified shipping crates, they weren't built in the socially common sense of the word. Their new classrooms are extremely energy efficient, provide lots of natural light for a quality indoor learning environment, are made of almost entirely reappropriated or recycled materials (even down to the desks being made of fully recycled plastic), and are quite structurally sound with potential for stacking via their original intended shipping design on boats.

During the workshop at Brookside we shared an idea with the students from a previous school - the potential to generate power from trampolines. A Brookside student named Cambria exploded with positive agreement on the genius of this idea and began imagining all the ways in which this idea could really blossom. Just a few hours after the workshop as we were cycling further south, Cambria sent us an email expressing her experience and gratitude for our visit with her class. We were completely blown away by her appreciation and… writing abilities?! I've never seen such an eloquently written message from a 5th grader before. Check out our facebook if you would like to read the letter (or for most of you, read it again). Thanks Cambria - you inspire us!

Meiners Oaks Elementary

Meiners Oaks Elementary, a distinguished Green Ribbon School, gave us most of the day to workshop with their 6th grade leadership team. We found out the basis for who can be on the leadership team was the opposite of how most schools gauge the competency and success of students. Any student interested in being on the leadership team has to write about why they want to be involved. The students are chosen to be a part of the team based on their passion and enthusiasm and not on their grades. This was a bonus for us because the leadership team just so happened to be focusing on sustainability themed projects the last few years. For example, the previous leadership team made a short film about how they decided to send all of their lunch leftovers to a commercial composting service in the area helping them divert 60% of their waste from the landfill. The school also puts a lot of focus on recycling, and they even have a student run recycling team who thoroughly sort out the bins everyday. 

The school has been working closely with a few other organizations in Ojai such as Food for Thought, a non-profit that helps install and maintain gardens in school grounds. And then there's Once Upon a Watershed - an organization that helps promote future stewards through outdoor education connecting the students to their local watershed. We had the pleasure of following a couple other educators around for the day in the land preserve directly behind the school teaching the students through nature observation and finishing with some native tree planting. 

Thacher High School

Thacher being a private boarding high school makes way for the largest high school campus I have ever seen. It includes dormitories, a dining hall, tennis courts, a music studio, a swimming pool, a horse ranch, a hog farm, biodiesl processing, an enormous gymnasium, fruit trees, a woodshop, a library, plenty of common space, newly renovated football and track field, and lots of riding trails that go back into the mountains cupping the campus to the northeast. This school certainly isn't scarce on money, giving them a unique opportunity to put strong support into new sustainable practices for their school. Some of these practices they've been doing for a while and some they are just starting to implement like many schools finding out that not only do systems based on sustainability lighten the load on our planet but also save them money and time in the scheme of things.


We were connected with Juan Sanchez, the Sustainability Coordinator, who also happens to be an excellent spanish teacher, relating to us how he likes to teach about sustainability through his spanish lessons. He was able to pull 13 students from the school's Environmental Action Committee (EAC) ranging from freshman to seniors. It was an unexpectedly fun day working with older students and being able to engage on different levels of the complexity of sustainability. We tried out some adjusted activities for the first time hoping they would be more age appropriate but we definitely still ran the web of life activity where we create a food web with a 70 foot length of slack line and then have one of the students lay on the web supported by their fellow classmates. I was really surprised by some of the thoughts during the debriefing with them. When I asked one of the students what it felt like to lay on the web she responded, "Love". At first I interpreted it as a clever comment on the trust in her friends to hold her up, but then I realized it might have a deeper truth to the real web of life that supports us. This thought rooted even further when we subsequently watched a film in town a couple days later titled Love thy Nature which plays on the Christian theme love thy neighbour. The film explores many of the benefits connected to our health and well being when we are interacting with the natural world around us. 

The EAC told us about a lot of really cool projects they have been running in their school working towards this new commandment of our times; although I would rather call it a new co-man-advent of our times (I would use woman in there too but it doesn't fit as well for the pun). Every year the EAC holds what they call the Green Cup Challenge which, if I remember correctly, is a competition between the freshman dorms to be the greenest on campus. The school has also just renovated their football field to irrigate from the bottom up effectively saving them 70% of their previous water use. Wow! And then they are producing their own biodiesel which some of the golf carts were running on as they cruised around campus filming about various other cool aspects of their school such as their research into composting the literal tons of horse manure being produced by their 130 horses. Oh, and did I mention the school has a camping supply storage giving any student access to borrow equipment for weekend adventures into the mountains.

A couple days after our workshop, I returned to Thacher to get a few more photos. On my walk around I ran into two of the students from the EAC who were busy at work painting some signs for the recycle bins they have on campus so that the other students would know what can and cannot go into the bins. It was great to happen upon them doing something connected to what we had just spent the day talking about. Seeing that they were already active and would continue to be active on issues of sustainability regardless of our visit was another glimmer of positive movement into the future.


Los Olivos Elementary

We were hanging with a group of 16 really kind-hearted and friendly 5th graders. They loved the games we played with them and subsequently taught us some of their own.

During every break almost the entire school came out to the field to play what they called "crazy ball" which to me looked like a giant mess of a game of soccer. There were no boundaries, no rules against using hands, and it was boys against girls. Marika and I joined in and I pretended as though I didn't still have a broken toe. 

An entourage of small humans moved quickly to anywhere the ball appeared, kind of like swarm behaviour in birds or fish, but then add the sound of 50 screaming children. Confirmed - crazy ball is crazy.

Our ride to Los Olivos took us through a 3 hour journey of dusty and traffic ridden big ag land. We were a little dirty to say the least, arriving at the school to find out they didn't have a shower. Since there was no camping in the area, they offered us the library to sleep in and we washed our heads in the sink that night.  Even still, Los Olivos Elementary had us smiling the whole time we were there.

A lot of really cool ideas came out of these kids. How about an evaporation collector? Or a solar concentrator so that more sun is captured by solar panels? Or a wind powered helicopter (that uses its own wind resistance to generate power)? Not sure about the logistics of these ideas but they sure are creative and have me thinking.


The school also had a pretty sweet little garden right in the middle of their campus where they had signs about the importance of even some of the smallest creatures... bugs. And since it was the day before Halloween, we decided to take a group photo showing our most ghastly selves.