Picture in your mind a school in the middle of the forest. Not just any forest. One with a stream, fruit trees, open clearings, and native plants. Sounds like a fantasy school doesn’t it? Well that school is actually a reality and it’s called Environmental Charter High School in South Los Angeles, California.
Our school focuses on sustainability and is oriented towards interdisciplinary learning. As part of that curriculum, we take a class in 10th grade called Green Ambassadors. When I first walked into the school, I thought to myself, “what did I get myself into?” Before, I had gone to a school that was a two story, grey brick with no greenery whatsoever.
Growing up in Los Angeles, all I ever saw was grey concrete everywhere, so the signs with “Free Vending Machines” screaming up at me from the fruit trees and the stream right smack down the middle of campus intimidated me.
But then once I got past all of the “BE GREEN” and “BE SUSTAINABLE” messages being thrown at us, I started to really understand what it meant to try to be sustainable and be active in the community; not only in trying to find solutions, but to raise awareness and educate people.
I became really involved with my school and wanted to learn everything there is to learn about sustainability, so I joined my school’s Green Ambassadors Internship after taking the class in tenth grade. In our Green Ambassadors class, we learn about different environmental issues and think about how we can turn all of those issues around and ask: How can we help our community? What can we do to raise awareness not only about issues, but also some solutions and projects that are already out there to help our environment? We as humans affect the atmosphere mainly through our carbon usage. That affects the oceans, the weather, and the environment, which means that it also affects agriculture, migration patterns of animals, and their population. I’ve always been passionate about bettering our world and this is a topic that fires me up. Since becoming a Green Ambassador, I’ve had many opportunities to raise awareness and make a change.
Our class hosted a Water Symposium at our school with over 300 people from the community. Not only did we share information and spread awareness, but the entire 10th grade class put together the event all by themselves. It was all student-led and we called the shots from the beginning. First we had to start with the planning process. Who was going to do what topic? Who was in charge of promotion, design, outreach? These are all big parts of the planning process that one doesn’t think will take up too much time, but they do because they are all equally important. There were interactive games, presentations, and booths that showed the how, what, and why of different topics like water politics, water recycling, desalination, grey water, and a history of LA’s water, which we shared with parents, friends, teachers and community members. I was an event leader and we were in charge of making sure that everything ran smoothly and that all of the problems were solved. That was not an easy task because as we all know, no event is perfect, but we problem-solved through it. I learned resilience, patience and teamwork, but most importantly, how to lead a cause and be accountable for any problems that arise. This was a really unique way to learn important life skills through informing the public about water and how it affects them. This year, the 10th graders chose Food and hosted a sustainable food cook off.
All of these events are due to the big role that we as students play in our school. We learn through many hands-on projects and learn responsibility, and are empowered with the skills to help make change. Our education is very unique and by being an environmental school, we get to experience learning about world issues and combine it with service learning to help better our communities. Environmentalism should be present in all schools because not only am I more aware of problems in the world and my community, but I learn many valuable lessons like self-determination and responsibility, and it builds up my confidence. Without this curriculum, I would have not learned that I am passionate about caring for the environment or that I like to speak to people and hear different opinions. This means that I can personally see the change that I make and it has given me a purpose for my present and also my future.
Having to think about what role I play in my community and how even the smallest things can have a big impact really made me want to continue on this path. I want to pursue a career in the environmental field. I want to educate people on green ideas and really be a part of the decision making process for green architecture and green building design to create green communities. I have found my passion through a green schools curriculum that values me, as a young person, and my contribution to the world.
Now, before I close I want all of YOU to think: what can I do to make my home, my business, my community, just 5% better? Imagine a world where every person and every business tried to their best to make their surroundings just a little bit better and more sustainable. Because every action has a reaction, and that reaction can lead to something monumental.