CCUSD was nominated by the California Department of Education for its extensive efforts in not only teaching environmental sustainability but also walking the walk to make the district itself more sustainable.
“This is an incredible achievement that speaks to our on-going commitment to make our campuses a national leader in the effort to create more sustainable schools and more environmentally aware students,” said CCUSD Superintendent Josh Arnold. “CCUSD takes pride in the continual improvements that are being made to reduce the District’s environmental impacts; improve the health and wellbeing of students, staff and the community; and provide effective environmental and sustainability education.”
The recognition rewards schools and districts that demonstrate exemplary achievement in three “pillars.” Pillar I: reduce environmental impact and costs; Pillar II: improve the health and wellness of schools, students, and staff; and Pillar III: provide effective environmental education that teaches many disciplines and is especially good at effectively incorporating science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, civic skills, and green career pathways.
“CCUSD is working hard to foster a culture of sustainability,” said Board of Education member Kelly Kent. “When people come to CCUSD’s campuses and see our solar PV arrays, award-winning custom designed sorting stations, Green5 banners and posters, they know the District embraces the responsibility to create a more sustainable world. CCUSD students and staff have cultivated a habit of practicing the Five Rs, and an understanding of what kind of positive impact they are making as a collective community. And, as they go out into the world, they are carrying this knowledge with them.”
In October 2010, the CCUSD Board of Education created the Environmental Sustainability Committee (ESC) to help the district become more environmentally and fiscally sustainable, and foster an ecoliterate and globally responsible student body. The ESC comprises parent volunteers with knowledge and experience in sustainability and a passion to help the district.
In 2011, the ESC facilitated a third-party baseline energy audit of the school facilities, created a sustainability master plan for the school board, and began working on bringing a 750 kilowatt solar photovoltaic system to the district’s main campus – where the comprehensive high school, middle school, and one elementary school are co-located – to reduce the district’s carbon footprint and raise money for the general fund. As of February 2014, the solar panels accounted for approximately 50 percent of the energy needs of the main campus and 25% of the entire district, delivering over $400,000 back into the district’s general fund each year over the life of the system, and avoid approximately 2,326 tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually. CCUSD also retrofitted all lights with LEDs (light-emitting diodes) and all toilets and urinals with low-flow fixtures. The district achieved a 29 percent reduction in greenhouse gases and a 20 percent reduction in water use in just three years. In 2014, CCUSD received an EPA rebate to replace two old diesel-fueled buses with new, cleaner, low-emission buses, reducing emissions by over 90 percent. Maintenance crews and middle and high school custodians use electric vehicles to get around the campuses.
During the 2011–12 school year, the ESC launched the Green5 co-curricular sustainability education program to increase awareness amongst students
and staff about recycling; reducing waste, energy use, and water consumption; reusing 28 materials; engaging in active transportation; and rethinking local solutions to global problems. The Green5, also known as the “Five Rs” (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Ride, and Rethink), was piloted at Linwood E. Howe Elementary School, and included recycling audits, surveys, a campuswide recycling program, signage and other messaging, and the establishment of a student leadership program. The post-audit findings showed recycling rates increased by 500 percent, and sustainability awareness amongst the students and staff also increased substantially.
During the 2012–13 school year, with support from a CalRecycle grant, CCUSD’s ESC brought the Green5 recycling and sustainability education program to all five elementary schools, with the addition of food waste composting across all five campuses. In 2014, CCUSD received a second CalRecycle grant that enabled the district to transform Green5 into a districtwide program, and purchase durable custom-designed sorting stations for the middle school, high school, Culver Park continuation high school, adult school, and the Office of Child Development. In addition, the grant provided funding for a sustainability coordinator to develop and manage the program. This position is now funded directly by the district’s general fund. Since 2014, the amount of materials being sent to the landfill by CCUSD has been reduced by more than 50 percent, for a districtwide diversion rate exceeding 80 percent. Districtwide, an estimated 29 tons of mixed recycling is diverted from the landfill each year, which is the equivalent of 100 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions avoided, while 935 tons of compostable food waste is diverted from the landfill each school year, which is the equivalent of 823.5 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions avoided.
The Green5 districtwide program now includes: annual school assemblies; student leaders at each school site; sustainability staff liaisons (teachers and administrators) who support the Green5 program at each school site; trainings on energy and water auditing and waste reduction analysis and techniques; annual districtwide recycling competitions; districtwide administration, analysis, and dissemination of the My Actions Count Survey three times each year; a robust Safe Routes to School-sponsored Walk and Rollers Program (known as the fourth R in Green5) with growing participation; an expanding partnership with Culver CityBus Green Fleet; an award-winning food program; and a civic engagement program focused on reducing food waste and sharing food with local families in a backpack program. Also under the Green5 umbrella, there is an air quality program, a green cleaning pilot, and a mindfulness pilot underway, as well as edible and learning gardens in every school, among other initiatives.
The district was an early adopter of California’s Education and the Environment Initiative (EEI) curriculum, and provided training to a cross-section of CCUSD teachers in 2011. Although only a subset of teachers is currently using the EEI in their classrooms, CCUSD is considered an EEI Deep Implementer School District. CCUSD is looking forward to adopting new statewide textbooks in 2018 that will integrate the EEI curriculum across grades and subject areas. Currently, CCUSD has three environmental studies courses that have been approved by the school board.
All elementary students have garden class as part of formal instruction. At the middle school, all students are eligible to participate in the Edible Garden Club and the Butterfly Garden Club, where they spend time tending to their gardens for one hour every Friday. The Green Thumbs Club at the high school also is open to all high school students and is student-led. There are seasonal farmers markets at all schools. The high school incorporates their harvest into the school lunch program. The district offers a science camp on Catalina Island, students participate in coastal cleanup, and some grades engage in raising Trout in the Classroom.
CCUSD holds all physical education classes outdoors except in rain, and offers a K-9 rescue dog care and training after-school program. Free annual eye exams and dental exams are given to all children, unless their families opt out. Flu shots also are offered to all students free of charge. Each school site has a school nurse or health aid onsite at all times. Each elementary school also has either a full-time or part-time school psychologist as well as a school counselor. The Sandy Segal Youth Health Center, located between the middle and high schools on the district’s main campus, provides free quality health care for hundreds of Culver City youth each year, along with supportive services and health education benefiting entire families. In addition to 30 minutes of physical education every day, all elementary schools have a total of 60 minutes of recess for free play in outdoor spaces.
In June 2016, the school board passed an Environmentally Preferential Purchasing Policy and Administrative Resolution. The board currently is considering the adoption of a Green Operations board
policy, which includes a commitment for advancing ecoliteracy. The elements of this policy include commitments to reducing waste, creating energy and water efficiencies, sustainable procurement and transportation, a healthy food program, and ecoliteracy. One teacher and the district sustainability coordinator attend the Green California Schools Summit annually.
The district is fostering a culture of sustainability. When people visit district schools and see solar arrays, award-winning custom-designed sorting stations, Green5 banners, and environmental posters, they know the district embraces the responsibility to create a more sustainable world. CCUSD students and staff have cultivated a habit of practicing the Five Rs, and an understanding of their positive influence as a collective community.
“It has been my distinct honor to have worked closely over the past five years with so many passionate student and staff leaders, dedicated parent volunteers, supportive school board members and the empowering superintendent’s office,” said CCUSD Sustainability Coordinator Shea Cunningham. “Together, we have built a district-wide Sustainability Program based on best practices and committed to continual improvement. The District is committed to following through on the goals and targets we have set through the Green Ribbon application and takes the weighty responsibility of continuing to integrate sustainability practices and programs throughout the entire system.”
Across the country, 45 schools, nine districts, and nine postsecondary institutions are being honored for their innovative efforts to reduce environmental impact and utility costs, improve health and wellness, and ensure effective sustainability education.
The honorees were named from a pool of candidates nominated by 28 states and the Department of Defense Department of Education Activity. The selectees include 39 public schools, including five magnet schools and one charter school, as well as six nonpublic schools. Forty-four percent of the 2017 honorees serve a disadvantaged student body and 14 percent are rural. The postsecondary honorees include three career and technical and community colleges.
The list of all selected schools, districts, colleges, and universities, as well as their nomination packages, can be found here. A report with highlights on the 63 honorees can be found here. More information on the federal recognition award can be found here. Resources for all schools to move toward the three Pillars can be found here.