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‘Eco-literacy’ woven into SF school curriculum

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Students in San Francisco are working with experts at the school district to create a winning strategy to reduce electricity, natural gas and water consumption. (Michael Ares/2015 Special to S.F. Examiner)
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You can’t live in San Francisco without seeing those ever-present green and blue bins for composting and recycling. By now, even our youngest students are up to speed on which bins to use when sorting trash.

At the San Francisco Unified School District, we’re proud of how much we’ve reduced our waste and we also take our sustainability way beyond bins.

In fact, we’re weaving “eco-literacy” into our curriculum across The City.

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Outside at Glen Park

At this big blue school in the heart of the Glen Park neighborhood, our students are astoundingly literate in ecology. They can trace how everyday objects come from natural resources. They are raising chickens and studying the food growing in their green schoolyard. Much of this eco-literacy can be attributed to our community partners at Education Outside, whose science instructors teach lessons that connect students to nature with hands-on learning.

In fact, this school has embraced eco-literacy so completely that officials from the California Department of Education and leaders from the DiCaprio Foundation toured the school last week and congratulated Glen Park for being a trailblazer in California’s Blueprint for Environmental Literacy.

Low-energy at Lincoln

Last year, the state superintendent for public instruction visited Lincoln High School to check out their pioneering eco-literacy program. This year, the seniors in Lincoln’s Green Academy are determining how to reduce natural gas usage at their school. They completed a review of the building’s heating systems and presented their findings at a recent staff meeting, where they also educated teachers about different heating types, and now they’re finalizing a staff survey of classroom heating issues. Students are working with experts at the SFUSD’s sustainability office to create a winning strategy to reduce electricity, natural gas and water consumption.

Lincoln isn’t the only school reducing its consumption; the SFUSD has an incentive-based utility reduction program called Shared Savings. By participating in the program, schools can earn money if they reduce energy by at least 5 percent. Last year, Lincoln earned approximately $5,500 and used it to fund the installation of a water bottle refill station for their school.

Overall since 2010, the SFUSD has reduced energy usage by 35 percent and water usage by 18 percent.

Raising eco-literate kids

We believe that our students need to experience and understand the science of how nature sustains life. But we are going beyond just encouraging sustainable practices — our students are rolling up their sleeves and enacting them!

Myong Leigh is interim superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.

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