ATASCADERO — The Atascadero Unified School District celebrated its second school to be nationally recognized for its efforts in conservation and education. The United States Department of Education awarded Carrisa Plains Elementary School the prestigious Green Ribbon Schools Award in November of 2019. Last year, Monterey Road Elementary School was the first in the school system to be awarded. 

The ED-GRS program began in 2011 when 80 non-governmental organizations petitioned the ED to honor schools for their sustainable facilities, health practices, and effective environmental education. Each year states can nominate up to five schools to be nationally recognized. To encourage schools to expand and improve their programs California offers levels of accomplishments of Bronze, Silver and Gold with the highest level being Green Achievers who are nominated for federal recognition.

Schools are rated on the “three pillars” — reducing environmental impact, improving health and wellness through coordinated school effort and providing effective environmental and sustainability education through an emphasis on “hands-on, real-world learning, civic engagement, STEM connections, and green career preparation,” according to ED-GRS.

This year brought the best results for AUSD’s GRS participants with San Benito Elementary and Creston Elementary both attaining Silver awards and Santa Rosa Elementary achieving Gold. Not a one-off award, schools must demonstrate progress and expansion over the years. Monterey Road Elementary received Silver two years in a row before finally reaching the goal of Green Achiever in 2018. Carrisa Plains earned
Silver in 2018.

Carrisa Plains Principal Sarah Betz first implemented her “green” programs while being a transitional kindergarten-second grade teacher at Carrisa Plains and then continued them when she became the principal of the school. She explained that the school’s sustainability activities such as maintaining the school’s garden, collecting eggs and taking turns and working the “worm bed” function as a way of bringing educational concepts like science and math into real-life applications. Betz also said she has seen first hand the benefits of changing the student’s scenery. 

“When we can get the kids outside and learning, it’s a totally different dynamic,” Betz said.

Carrisa Plains and Monterey Road schools also teamed with the Cuesta College Sustainability Resource Center that promotes sustainability appreciation and education through a variety of avenues. According to the GRS report the “no-waste ideology pervades the culture at Carrisa Plains and is the basis for much of their learning.” The school also implemented energy conservation practices as well as installed energy-saving technologies to reduce its carbon footprint to name just a few practices that earned the school the national award.

Monterey Road Elementary School Principal Julie Davis said that staff and students were instrumental in the creation of its green programs. Davis said the initial lCSRC program involved is called a waste audit, where all things discarded in a 24-hour time frame are sorted to garner an understanding of what is being thrown out and how to devise more sustainable practices. 

Monterey Road also teamed up with One Cool Earth, a local nonprofit that creates educational garden programs for San Luis Obispo County elementary schools.

Davis said that the school has done a number of changes to decrease its carbon footprint, such as installing solar panels and making landscape modifications. Students are currently working on developing the greenhouse in the school’s garden. The students are currently designing how they intend to use it and what they plan on growing in it.

“We started with the Waste Stations at lunch and from there it really just branched out to outdoor learning and our garden…,” Davis said. She went on to say, “It’s just kind of become our thing. The kids are just so pumped and into it and it’s carrying on, this is now our fifth year of it.”

Betz added that this year the AUSD is writing up a district application for ED-GRS. Of the 977 school districts in California, only 10 have been awarded the Green Achiever award. 

Getting through this together, Atascadero