Pacific Valley

Pacific Valley is the first school we've visited that is completely off the grid. As Pacific's superintendent Mr. Gordon tells us, they are a small necessary school, providing the only learning facility for over 60 miles either way. They have solar panels covering their roof and are backed up by a generator. In the near future they are replacing their solar panels with newer more efficient panels by at least 4 times.

Being quite secluded in the middle of Big Sur, there really was no camping near the school, so they offered us a place to lay our heads for the night in their rec room.

Our entrance to Pacific Valley was filled with a flurry of monarch butterflies dancing between the biodiverse gardens surrounding the school. They even made a cabana for the chrysalides to find shelter during their metamorphosis. 

The effects of this close connection to plants and organisms was apparent in our superpower question to the students. One wished the superpower to make nature while another wished the power to bring any plant back to life.

The school has a very small number of students and so almost the entire school was involved in our workshop which started after hearing a Modest Mouse song blast over their school speaker system. This was Pacific Valley's version of a school bell and throughout the day we heard a few other tracks that project a feeling of inspiration, relaxation, and motivation to get up and move around. What a novel idea! I don't think I fully realized until that moment how discomforting and alarming school bells can be.

 Because of their small scale, the school has been able to take advantage of transitioning to self-reliant systems. The superintendent Mr. Gordon tells us they removed themselves from the government issued food program and were buying from local organic growers as well as growing their own food for school lunches. Knowing that this is a much higher quality and exponentially more sustainable food system I imagined it would cost them more which could be quite difficult for a school of this size to operate. 

It goes without saying the cost savings over time when one factors in the future health of each individual and environment that is involved with such systems, but to our surprise, as superintendent Gordon tells us, the upfront expense was actually less to buy local organic food than to receive canned cubes of nutrient-less orange biomass. Some might call them carrots. 

Our visit ended with a gift! David Allen, the science and art teacher, is not only a master of education receiving a presidential innovation award for environmental education, but also an excellent and thoughtful artist.  He gave us both jade surfboard necklaces which he had locally harvested from the beach and carved with a solar-powered grinding stone. How excellent! Thanks Pacific Valley for a great experience!

Carmel Middle School

Yet another school with an Environmental Team! We spent the day with 5 highly engaged, fully invested 7th and 8th graders who had so many things to tell us about their school efforts.

For example, here are two of the students from the Environmental Team telling us about their friend Billy, one of the compartmentalized trashcans on campus. The school was offered brand new trashcans that have already built-in compartments for recycling and compost, however Carmel Middle decided instead that it would be more sustainable to reuse and revamp the cans they already had. They took an all school vote on what to name the trashcans so that the entire student body could be a part of the story of the waste system and therefore have more ownership over their waste streams. Well played Carmel Middle.

The school campus is neighboring a really incredible organization called MEarth which hosts six weeks of ecoliteracy for the sixth graders every year. The grounds of MEarth include a large organic garden, a LEED certified green building for indoor classes and  food preparation, water catchment, an outdoor amphitheater, a bee garden, a pond habitat, greenhouses, worm bins, owl houses, a native plant nursery, and a local watershed explorable display. I wish we had pictures of all of that, but it was drizzling and we had a 26 mile ride still on deck for the day. 

On top of all that, Carmel Middle also has a program called Food for Folks which sends any lunch leftovers to the homeless shelters.


Our subsequent cycle took us to Andrew Molera SP where we camped out for the night next to this tree under the milky way.

All Saints

All Saints in Carmel was a day full of ingenuity and excitement. Being an Ocean Guardian School, the students are very aware of some of their actions and their subsequent effects. For example, they have a water fountain that adds up over the coarse of its life exactly how many plastic bottles full of water they have been drinking. This way they have a sense of the amount of waste that they could have been generating if they weren't using a fountain. 

The school has a wonderful garden with a giant cob/brick oven that was cooking up some focaccia bread. It was hard to pull myself away.

Another example of sustainable awareness had to do with energy use. One of the students knew about the continuous draw of electricity from most electronics that are plugged into an outlet even when the appliance is turned off. The student suggested that we make smart charging devices that know to stop drawing electricity when the electronic device is off or fully charged. Seems completely right and possible to me!

Or our absolute favourite idea - energy generating trampolines! I know of whole buildings full of trampolines that would love this idea.

How about roads that draw electricity from the movement of the tires over them? Or towels that show you how many paper towels you are saving?

These 6th graders are blowing our minds.

As a final note, one of the students raised his hand to point out a banner hanging in the classroom. He read it out loud, "No one can do everything, but everyone can do something."

Valencia Elementary


Valenica Elementary is also an Ecoschool and they even have an eco team with about 30 students. We showed up to the eco team gathered in a circle talking about their favorite experiences in nature. Naturally we wanted to join the circle.

On top of having an eco team that were already clued in to many ideas surrounding sustainability, this school has a trash and recycling team that put on special jumpers and sort the waste stream during break times - how consciously cool!

And then there was this super creative and completely original strategy of zipper tag that we've never seen before...

We also had the pleasure and in some cases leisure of a very brief third team member, our buddy Jacob Scheidler. He was the perfect (temporary) fit for our project as he has already been a part of bike tours that teach about sustainability - the Sustainable Living Bike Tour. Thanks for joining us Jacob!

Idea of the day: A bicycle powered smoothie maker

Bonny Doon Elementary

Our dear friend Gina connected us up with a family that lives up in Bonny Doon where we were able to pitch our tent for the night. I trekked out into the surrounding forest, or I should say, remnants of a forest, which had been recently burned in an accidental fire. Even though a fire seems to devastate an area, it's a crucial aspect of a healthy ecosystem, that if allowed to happen regularly, keeps the fuel ladder at bay, adds carbon to the soil, and is extremely generative for new life. Heres a couple of stills of the progression of light change over the coarse of a couple hours.

Arriving at Bonny Doon (our first Ecoschool!) we were met with a super enthusiastic group of students and a teacher who knew how to manage their energy well. Before we start our workshop, Miss Holiday has the students go for a quick run to the edge of campus and back where she is ready and waiting with a spray bottle to mist them in the face. Slightly out of breath, they are content to sit and listen for a few minutes.


The campus was beautiful, situated among pine forests with redwood groves and an open courtyard style setting where the kids interact between classes. The school was fully equipped with solar power, a life lab (garden), chickens, and an orchard.  They were very conscious of reusable items and almost every single student had a reusable lunch box. Thanks Bonny Doon for helping to keep our landfills smaller.

Superpower of the day: to be able to reduce carbon emissions