Magazine article Leadership

Greening the Future: As Job Growth in the Green Economy Outpaces Total Job Growth, Schools Are Preparing Students for a Greener Tomorrow

Magazine article Leadership

Greening the Future: As Job Growth in the Green Economy Outpaces Total Job Growth, Schools Are Preparing Students for a Greener Tomorrow

Article excerpt

Because we educators vicariously touch the future through our students, I believe that we sometimes have the uncanny ability to see the future. One common future forecast is the phenomenal growth of green jobs in the emerging green economy, leading to our creation of the "Reach for the Sun" Solar Energy Academy at La Mirada High School.

Manufacturing employment in California's green economy expanded by 19 percent from 1995 to 2008, according to Reuters, while there was a 9 percent drop in total manufacturing employment over the same period. The engine driving this burgeoning growth of the green marketplace is fueled by research that describes formidable challenges for California and its economy. We need to help prepare our students for the seismic changes in society and our environment.

La Mirada High School, under the leadership of Principal Bill Seals and District Superintendent Ruth Perez, has a history of green grant awards. In 2004, I wrote the first grant application (a $10,000 award) to British Petroleum "A+ for Energy" funding. Realizing that the foreign language curriculum, which I teach, could not do justice to the breadth and scope of the renewable energy field, I invited science teachers to join the BP funded, "Wave of the Future" energy program.

A total of seven individual $10,000 grants, for a total of $70,000, were consequently awarded from 2004 to 2008 to La Mirada High's initial energy program. Funds were used for classroom materials, solar technology, fieldtrips, conferences, literature and other student related expenses.

From the many students who participated in "Wave of the Future" energy program, several went on to environmental studies majors and internships in solar installation businesses.

Because our funding is so dependent on grant monies, we have begun to model grant writing for students and direct them to grant opportunities. A couple years ago, I guided a student in the writing of a mini-grant to replace Styrofoam lunch trays at school with more eco-friendly bio-plastic trays made from corn starch. She won $500 to accomplish this goal!

In 2009, La Mirada High School was awarded a Green CPA (California Partnership Academy) three-year grant for a "Reach for the Sun, Solar Energy Academy." For the first time in 2009, California Department of Education awarded up to $42,000 CPA grants to 42 high schools across the state to develop and implement green academies that focus on clean technology and energy businesses.

Alternative energy school within a school

The California Partnership Academies are small learning communities based on a "school within a school" model. Core classes revolve around a career tech program, in this case a newly developed Green Construction/Alternative Energy class in the school's woodshop. As mandated by the state, 50 percent of academy students must meet the at-risk criteria of low motivation, low GPA, high absenteeism, and economically disadvantaged.

Students as well as teachers are required to volunteer to participate in the academy. Teacher-developed curriculum is integrated into main courses of study. Tenth-grade core academy classes are: language arts, world history, biology and green construction/ alternative energy. Eleventh-grade classes are language arts, U.S. history and Spanish. Additional academy classes are algebra I and geometry. In spite of the normal "growing pains" of a second year program, we do have much to celebrate and to share!

Teachers receive in-service on implementing the Buck Institute approach to Project Based Learning. This instructional, standards-based methodology empowers students as active learners, connects them to the real world of work and challenges them to solve authentic problems by conducting inquiry around a "driving question."

For example, a current U.S. history four-week unit organized its inquiry-based learning around the driving question: "How does a residential building become a net zero energy home and how can these green homes attract a buyers' market? …

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