ENGAGING YOUTH IN URBAN ENVIRONMENTAL LEADERSHIP
SOCIAL REPORT > By Sammy Lyon, Environmental Charter Schools
Originally published in Sustainable Business Magazine.
At Environmental Charter High School — an urban patch of paradise nestled among some of the busiest freeways in Los Angeles — students use the environment as a lens to become agents of change. The school’s curriculum is interdisciplinary, authentically engaging students in real-world issues while achieving a 96% college acceptance rate. Many students are the first in their families to go to college. Through a program called Green Ambassadors, students use the environmental lessons they learn in school to engage with community partners and take action beyond their campus.
Green Ambassadors Interns are fifteen and sixteen year olds who lead workshops to educate their community about food, water, waste, energy and environmental justice and serve as “junior consultants,” helping local businesses reduce their carbon footprint by conducting sustainability audits and offering recommendations. Most recently, they partnered with Dogeared, a local Southern California jewelry company and certified B Corporation, to visit the facilities and evaluate four key areas of sustainability: energy, waste, water and community culture.
Students took their previous knowledge about the California drought, energy efficiency, and waste reduction methods such as composting and recycling to develop a set of questions and markers to look at while visiting the company. After spending the day speaking with employees and department directors, students returned a month later to present their findings and make recommendations that promote sustainability practices, such as installing LED lighting and low flow toilets and replacing bubble wrap packaging with biodegradable honeycomb wrapping. 11th grade intern Vanesa Iniguez gave sound advice: “Start small, so you can see changes right away, while the bigger changes are being implemented.”
REAL WORLD SKILLS
These partnerships provide opportunities to translate students’ academic skills into real-world professional experience, developing young environmental stewards who are well-versed in sustainability no matter what career they go into. “We’ve learned about these things in our classes, so it is exciting to see an actual business take them into consideration,” said Cristian Anhielo, 11th grade intern. Green Ambassadors fulfills a dual purpose: students are of service to their local community, and community partners facilitate a much-needed School-to-Career track for college-bound students.
SUSTAINABILITY IS COMMUNITY
Green Ambassadors projects also build a sense of community among students and with the school’s neighbors and partners. Carolyn Lam, 11th grade intern, said recently in her keynote speech at the Green California Schools Conference, “Sustainability is not just about green technology and innovation — that is certainly an aspect — but it’s also about community.” Not surprisingly, Green Ambassadors students rely on 21st century skills such as collaboration, creativity, communication and critical thinking, working together to accomplish their goals.
Intern Vanesa Iniguez asks each of us: “Imagine a world where every person and every business tried to their best to make their surroundings better and more sustainable. Think: what can I do to make my home, my business, my community, just 5% better? Because every action has a reaction, and that reaction can lead to something monumental.” These students are not the leaders of tomorrow, but of today.
About Green Ambassadors
Green Ambassadors is an award winning environmental education program developed by Environmental Charter Schools that empowers youth to be agents of change in their communities and world. The Green Ambassadors Institute offers professional development for educators and organizations looking to implement hands-on sustainable education. Environmental Charter Schools (ECS) is a growing network of free public schools in underserved communities of South Los Angeles. Learn more about Environmental Charter Schools at www.ecsonline.org & www.greenambassadors.org.