Going GREEN with Los Angeles Unified School District

In this Green Schoolhouse Series guest blog, John Zavalney, science expert at the San Pedro MST Center, offers his expertise in sustainability education. Zavalney became interested in climate change during his 20 plus years as an educator and has been involved in a variety of environmental education programs. John has always had a passion for science, and was especially motivated when he participated in a taping of a presentation by Al Gore that was shown in An Inconvenient Truth. He received an American Teacher Award as one of the top three science teachers in the country and was awarded the Global Leadership Award in Education by the Jane Goodall Institute. John also runs a 3-acre urban garden that showcases food sustainability.

Going green is much more than reducing your carbon and/or your environmental footprint. Conserving energy and water while using alternate forms of energy are essential actions we should all strive do more of.  I think it is also just as important to introduce students to the real green, nature. After all if students don’t know and appreciate the natural world around them, then they don’t understand why we need to reduce the human impact on the planet.

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has set the goal of becoming one of the greenest school districts in the country. Through district initiatives, partnerships and individual efforts there are many opportunities for students, teachers and the community to learn about and become involved in programs that teach you how make a difference.

The LAUSD district wide energy and water conservation program is named the School Conservation Project (SCP) and is headed by the Facilities Service Division (FSD) and Kim Kennedy Interim Director of Sustainability/ LEED. This year schools will receive 50% of the cost savings realized for their site based reduction in cost in water and electricity due to conservation efforts. This increase in award amount creates a greater incentive for schools to participate in the program and conserve. Last year, Washington Preparatory Senior High School under the leadership of Principal Dr. Ullah, led the district with over $45,000 in savings and receiving almost $20,000 dollars for the schools general budget. To learn more about this program go to http://mo.laschools.org/sustainability/

The SCAQMD and LADWP have partnered with LAUSD to help green one of the largest energy and transportation users in the state. The SCAQMD has provided the school district with over 9 million dollars to purchase 100 compressed natural gas busses to bring the total number of CNG busses to 233, the largest such bus fleet in the state. These busses not only are cleaner and more energy efficient they allow thousands of students to travel safely to school free from exhaust fumes wafting in from the bus.

LADWP is an amazing partner and has provided funding for many programs, including my position at the San Pedro Math Science Technology Center (SPMST). Because of the support from LADWP and local school board member Dr. Vladovic the SPMST which was scheduled to be closed, has remained open and is now beginning to flourish. Working out of the SPMST has allowed me the freedom to implement and coordinate not only components of the grant but to bring students and teachers to the center for field trips and professional development as well as going to classrooms. I often take exotic animals to classrooms to enrich the camouflage and adaptation units. I have also conducted over 100 Climate Change presentations based upon the training I received from former vice-president Gore and The Climate Project. The presentation gives the scientific evidence about climate change, looks at changes already occurring and provides solutions, ways schools can reduce their energy & water usage. Other LADWP programs include:

• Development, equipment and teacher training for model lessons that include 6th grade unit E-Motion focusing different ways to generate electricity

• 20 three-day two-night Outdoor Education field trips 10 at each Temescal Canyon: 6th grade; watershed issues San Pedro/ Angeles Gate Park Hostelling International; 8th or 10th grade; Clean Water Program/ Water quality & quantity issues

The SPMST is now entering a new partnership with Cause & Effect Evolutions and Brighten a Life. They are a cause marketing firm and a nonprofit who are committed to providing the greenest educational facilities possible to school districts across the country. Through generous donations four schools in Arizona are receiving a donation of a 5,000sq.ft LEED platinum schoolhouse, fully furnished. After I convinced them to come to Los Angeles and visit the SPMST they decided this would be the perfect location for the Green Schoolhouse flagship building. The goal is to have a 12,000sq/ft LEED platinum facility completed during the 2012/2013 school year. For more information about the green schoolhouse project go to http://greenschoolhouse.homestead.com/

Teachers and students all over the LAUSD are involved in school wide projects that are making a difference. The Tree People and Generation Earth offer several workshops that many LAUSD teachers have attended. These workshops instruct and guide the teachers how to plan and implement projects from planting a garden to conducting water, energy and trash audits as well as how to connect these projects to the curriculum through a service learning training. To learn more about these programs go to

http://www.generationearth.com/ or http://www.treepeople.org/. Service learning is also a major component of Dr. Jane Goodalls’ Roots & Shoots program. This program asks students to conduct three projects a year, one for animals, one for the environment and one for the human community. Examples of projects include:

The Environmental Club: Jefferson Middle School & High School
Jefferson Middle School asked Jefferson High School to team up with them to help create a Native School Garden within their Campus. The students all got together every Friday after school to create a plan and landscape ideas for their garden. They followed up with their plans and now have native plants growing within their campus, and have begun to integrate special education students from their school in order to help maintain the garden.

Urban Empowerment Roots&Shoots: Miguel Contreras Learning Complex
The students at Miguel Contreras Learning Complex in L.A. wanted to maintain a clean environment in the neighborhood, which they noticed was overwhelmingly covered with trash. They got together on Saturday mornings with students, and other people who just wanted to help make a change and began to clean up their streets and make it a better place for the inhabitants of the area.

These are just a couple examples of how Roots & Shoots has helped schools make a difference in their community. To learn more about Roots & Shoots go to http://www.rootsandshoots.org/

Individual administrator like teachers can also make a big difference. At Taper Elementary School principal Doreen Steinbach dedicated two Tuesday professional development days to allow me to train the entire staff in Project WET. The Water Education for Teachers program is a great K-12 program that help provides teachers with the resources to teach about water issues such as, water rights, point source pollution and basic properties of water. To have an entire staff trained will allow the concepts to spiral up through all the grade levels and across the curriculum. To learn more about Project WET go to http://www.projectwet.org/

Follow guest blogger John Zavalney on Twitter: @JohnZavalney

1 Comment

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One response to “Going GREEN with Los Angeles Unified School District

  1. WOW. LAUSD is doing so much to teach the next generation about living green. They are really leading the way, I love that they are converting to 100 natural gas buses. Thanks for the post!