The California School Boards Association (CSBA) awarded the San Mateo County Office of Education’s Environmental Literacy and Sustainability Initiative a 2023 Gold Bell Award, which recognizes outstanding programs and governance practices of school boards in school districts and county offices of education throughout California.

Golden Bell Awards reflect the depth and breadth of education programs and governance decisions supporting these programs that are necessary to address students’ changing needs. In order to receive a Golden Bell Award, applicants must demonstrate that their program is data-driven, has made a difference for students, is innovative or exemplary, shows evidence of board support and leadership, is connected to the Board’s vision, is sustainable over time, and can be replicated.

In response to the California Department of Education’s A Blueprint for Environmental Literacy and growing concerns about climate change, the County Office of Education launched its Environmental Literacy and Sustainability Initiative in the 2017-18 school year to support San Mateo County schools in prioritizing environmental literacy and integrating environmental sustainability and climate-ready practices across a school's campus, curriculum, community, and culture.

The initiative is unique in its focus on helping school staff and students become “solutionaries,” or solution-oriented. Instead of adding to the stress students already feel about climate change, the solutionary approach is trauma-informed and gives students knowledge, skills, and experiences to tackle problems in their own communities, building both their confidence and leadership skills. The initiative also employs a systems approach to support all areas of the school community, from facilities and operations to curriculum and instruction to community and culture.

Over the years, the initiative has further developed its environmental work to meet State requirements regarding curriculum and facilities upgrades and systems, respond to educators’ requests for support, and provide students with relevant education and leadership opportunities. It has supported more than 350 teachers in developing environmental literacy lesson plans and units through its Teacher Fellowship Program, empowered hundreds of students to take environmental action through the Youth Climate Ambassadors program and Environmental Youth Leadership Summit, and facilitated several networks and additional programs to deepen school districts’ commitment to environmental literacy and sustainability.

"Our Environmental Literacy and Sustainability Initiative has been key to helping schools transform into climate-ready and sustainable campuses, inspiring teachers to prioritize environmental literacy and solutions-oriented teaching, and empowering students to become leaders in their communities," shared San Mateo County Superintendent of Schools Nancy Magee. "We are not only addressing the needs of students today – we are building a more sustainable world for generations to come."

The County Office of Education was recognized at CSBA’s Golden Bell Awards Ceremony on November 30, 2023.