Redwood City, CA–The San Mateo County Office of Education announced the 20 standout leaders who received 2020-21 Sustainable and Climate Resilient Schools (SCRS) Challenge awards for their efforts to create sustainable school communities during the 2020-21 school year. Seven of these leaders received a financial award to support the next phase of their projects.

The award, formerly known as the One Planet Schools Challenge Award, recognizes students, administrators, teachers, and community members who have organized projects that address one or more sustainability goals drawn from the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and One Planet Living Framework. Each project also focuses on increasing the sustainability of campus facilities and operations sustainability, creating curriculum that addresses environmental topics, and/or building community environmental awareness.

Despite a challenging year, participants submitted a wide variety of projects such as improving home energy efficiency, building community gardens, and developing zero waste recycling programs, some of which were in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The award winners represent five public school districts in addition to private schools and community organizations from across San Mateo County.

In addition, Peninsula Clean Energy has provided funds for five financial awards of $500 each, which will be distributed among seven projects with clear plans on how they will continue their work. The following is a summary of the projects receiving the financial award.

Youth Climate Ambassadors in partnership with Arbor Bay School
During fall 2020, Youth Climate Ambassadors Mira Bhatt and Katinka Lennemann, both students at Carlmont High School, set up an edible garden and composting tumblers at Arbor Bay School, a K-8 school in San Carlos serving children with mild/moderate learning differences. In addition to increasing the amount of greenery on campus, the project engaged students in hands-on learning and taught them how our food systems are interconnected with climate change.

Millbrae Leos Club in partnership with Millbrae Lions, City of Millbrae, NexTrex, Safeway and Other Civic Groups
Members of the Millbrae Leos Club have been concerned about the use of plastic bags and the potential damage to the environment. Realizing the power of collective action and with support from the City of Millbrae, Millbrae Lions, and the Millbrae Safeway, the Leos partnered with Trex Lumber on the NexTrex plastic recycling program. For every 500 pounds of plastic they recycle, the city is rewarded with a plastic bench. So far, the club has collected approximately 1,750 pounds of plastic and received three benches.

Design Tech High School
The Green Team at Design Tech High School conducted a campus-wide environmental baseline assessment, which led them to discover that the school required waste infrastructure improvements. With help from Recology, the team applied for a state grant to upgrade the school’s systems to manage waste more efficiently, installed a tri bin system, designed signage for the bins, and created an image classifier to help students identify which bin their waste goes in. The improved system resulted in a 242% increase in waste diversion.

Carlmont High School: Green Team and ASB Human Relations Committee, DIY Earthcycle Club
Two groups at Carlmont High School will split a financial award to further their projects. In the first project, students from the Green Team and the Associated Student Body (ASB) Human Relations Committee collaborated on a community garden to promote biodiversity, decrease water usage by using native plants, create a space for students to enjoy, and educate peers on the significance of native gardening. In the second project, the DIY Earthcycle Club taught members and the community about upcycling, which turns discarded objects or materials into new, usable items.

San Mateo-Foster City School District: Audubon Elementary School, Bayside Academy
Projects at two San Mateo-Foster City School District schools will split a financial award to implement their next steps. In the first project, Audubon Elementary School teacher Jennifer Young led her fourth-grade students in conducting surveys to learn how their homes use energy. Students created model energy-efficient homes and discussed equity issues related to energy use. In the second project, Bayside Academy eighth graders worked across school clubs to inform their school community about global warming and the worsening energy crisis. They also wrote and circulated a petition to install solar panels at their school, which will be sent to district administrators for consideration.

View all of this year’s standout winners.