By. Ira Blatt, English Department Chairperson, Yosemite High School
In 2011, Yosemite High School civics and history teacher, Jeff Rivero, attended the California Green School Summit in Pasadena to learn how to incorporate environmental literacy and related career pathways into his school curriculum. During a session on the California Green Ribbon Schools (CGRS) competition, Mr. Rivero met Lesley Taylor, facilities planning policy and standards unit consultant for the California Department of Education. Ms. Taylor introduced Mr. Rivero to the pillars of focus for the CGRS program and encouraged him to have Yosemite High School apply.
After returning from the summit, Mr. Rivero held a series of staff collaborations to spark the enthusiasm of his fellow teachers, administrators, and support staff. Using the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools application as a tool for assessing their school, Yosemite staff conducted an inventory of programs and activities that were currently serving students, and identified unmet needs and future opportunities to enhance curriculum and services to meet those needs.
As an alternative school, this self-assessment project enabled Yosemite High School to examine how to best meet the needs of its 300 students, 90% of whom qualify for free and reduced-price lunch assistance. The results of this assessment led the school to make significant improvements by incorporating relevant environmental themes and service-learning projects throughout its curriculum. Highlights include:
- Developing an innovative green pathways program that introduced students to solar energy theory and provided them with practical, hands-on job training experiences. This program included a service-learning experience where students worked with GRID Alternatives, a nonprofit corporation providing low-income families with affordable clean energy options, to install solar panels on roofs. So far, this program has helped twenty Yosemite High School students earn NABCEP certification.
- Expanding the Yosemite High School “Green Team,” a group teachers and students who work after school to initiate innovative green programs. Notable projects include the “What’s Up, What’s Down” program to promote energy conservation and “Go Slow with the H20,” a water conservation drive that resulted in a 40% reduction in water use.
- Incorporating service-learning and civic engagement in Yosemite High School’s arts program. For example, art students participated in the City of Merced’s tile mosaic and poppy art projects and provided assistance to Valley Children’s Hospital in Madera for Halloween, Christmas, and Mother’s Day art projects involving their young patients.
- Participating in PG&E’s energy conservation competition, led by Yosemite High School’s GTEC class, which resulted in a 1st place finish.
By using the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools application as a self-assessment tool, Yosemite High School was able to identify ways to leverage environmental and sustainability literacy to meet the academic needs of its students while engaging them with their community and helping them find common ground as engaged citizens. Yosemite High School encourages all schools to take advantage of the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools as an opportunity to co-create a sustainable future.
Note: Jeff Rivero, Yosemite High School teacher and Green Team Adviser, contributed to this blog post.
Ira Blatt serves as the English Department Chairperson and has taught at Yosemite High School for over 10 years.