Tom Torlakson works with students at Lincoln High School on September 15, 2015

Tom Torlakson works with students at Lincoln High School on September 15, 2015

State superintendent highlights SFUSD’s environmental efforts in blueprint for state

From whale watching to drought awareness, San Francisco’s public school classrooms already tackle environmental issues.

But a plan unveiled by State Superintendent Tom Torlakson at Lincoln High School in The City on Tuesday seeks to improve environmental studies throughout California.

The report, “A Blueprint for Environmental Literacy,” encourages teachers to bring students outside and let them learn directly in and from the environment. That’s key to teaching students to care about the Earth, Torlakson said.

“[During] the recession, a lot of programs were cut back, including some of the outdoor education programs,” Torlakson told the San Francisco Examiner. “So we’re encouraging schools to bring [back] those hands-on [lessons] so that students can experience the outdoors and see nature firsthand, as well as study it in a textbook.”

Last year, Torlakson convened a 47-member environmental literacy task force — co-chaired by Elizabeth Babcock of the California Academy of Sciences and Craig Strang of the Lawrence Hall of Science — to explore the state of environmental education in California and recommend areas of improvement.

Among the recommendations were to increase firsthand environmental experiences like a school garden or field trips, and to integrate environmental education with other subjects, like English, math and science.
That’s a route Lincoln High is already familiar with. In fact, Lincoln High’s unique Green Academy pathways program incorporates environmental studies with other courses for about three dozen sophomores, juniors and seniors each year.

In a recent lesson students studying economics were tasked with finding the incentive for customers to bring their own recyclable bags to the grocery store, explained Valerie Ziegler, coordinator of the school’s Green Academy program.

“The focus is, if we want to encourage people to use a reusable water bottle or bring a recycle bag, what do we do? We can charge them,” Ziegler said. “It’s an environmental issue, looked at through an economic content matter.”

San Francisco Assemblymembers David Chiu and Phil Ting, on hand for Tuesday’s event at Lincoln High along with San Francisco Unified School District Superintendent Richard Carranza, stressed the importance of students taking a stand to protect the environment.

“At a time when we are experiencing drought, forest fires, El Nino, sea level rise, extreme weather conditions, we don’t have a moment to waste when it comes to protecting the environment,” Chiu said.
Ting added that even teaching students how to garden, compost or save water can have a widespread effect.

“Climate change is one of the biggest issues of our time,” Ting said. “We really [need to] prepare our young people to understand the environment and how it impacts our Earth. That education can’t start early enough.”

Lincoln High seniors Jennifer Oliveros, 16, Melanie Medina, 16, and Jacob Lopez, 17, who have studied environmental science since their sophomore year as part of the Green Academy program, appreciate learning about their carbon footprint.

But it’s their whale watching field trip Wednesday that will bring their most exciting lesson yet.
“Humpback whales and gray whales, probably some sharks,” Oliveros said of what she expects to see.
David ChiuLincoln High SchoolPhil TingSan FranciscoSFSFMTATom Torlakson

Just Posted

A large crack winds its way up a sidewalk along China Basin Street in Mission Bay on Friday, Sept. 24, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
San Francisco’s sinking sidewalks: Is climate change to blame?

‘In the last couple months, it’s been a noticeable change’

For years, Facebook employees have identified serious harms and proposed potential fixes. CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg have rejected the remedies, causing whisteblowers to multiple. (Eric Thayer/The New York Times)
Facebook’s problems at the top: Social media giant is not listening to whistleblowers

Whistleblowers multiply, but Zuckerberg and Sandberg don’t heed their warnings

Maria Jimenez swabs her 7-year-old daughter Glendy Perez for a COVID-19 test at Canal Alliance in San Rafael on Sept. 25. (Penni Gladstone/CalMatters)
Rapid COVID-19 tests in short supply in California

‘The U.S. gets a D- when it comes to testing’

Niners quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo led a late-game comeback against the Packers, but San Francisco lost, 30-28, on a late field goal. (Courtesy of San Francisco 49ers)
The Packers beat the Niners in a heartbreaker: Don’t panic

San Francisco is no better and no worse than you thought they were.

A new ruling will thwart the growth of solar installation companies like Luminalt, which was founded in an Outer Sunset garage and is majority women-owned. (Philip Cheung/New York Times)
A threat to California’s solar future and diverse employment pathways

A new ruling creates barriers to entering the clean energy workforce

Most Read