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Green lessons from California

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greenOmar Benitez, a 17-year-old senior at Bioscience High School in Phoenix, combined his talent for bio-engineering with his interest in wildlife to help fabricate a prosthetic tail for Mr. Stubbs, a handicapped alligator.  

Benitez says his career goal is to attend Arizona State University and become a biomedical engineer. The courses he’s taking at Bioscience include engineering, algebra, geometry, physics, chemistry and biology.

But, he also has learned to think critically about major issues such as pollution and global warming.

His school is part of a growing trend of “green curricula” in public and charter schools across the country. California is a state leading in the new educational methods that Los Angeles mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, has praised as “educating the next generation of environmental stewards.”

Around Arizona, some schools are teaching their students to use calculators, complex math formulas and scientific reports to estimate nations’ energy consumption, civilization’s carbon footprints and global-warming impacts.  

“Definitely, Bioscience High’s focus on sustainability has opened my eyes as to how things will look in the future. California also is doing the whole sustainability thing,” Benitez says. “The current course that our country is taking is unsustainable. It’s too reliant on fossil fuels and coal. These fuels are cheap, but there is a cost in increasing CO2 levels, mercury in the water and acid rain. Future generations are going to have to live under harsher regulations because of climate change.”

Green curricula are the backbone of California’s Education and the Environment Initiative (EEI), which was developed by the California Environmental Protection Agency after a 2003 law mandated it. The EEI consists of 85 units for kindergarten through 12th grade. Kindergarteners use a Resources Bingo game to learn about drinking water and water resources. The goal is environmental literacy for all state students. 

When fully implemented, the EEI lessons will be used in 1,000 school districts, 9,900 schools and by 6.2 million students. Public and private partnerships will help fund the curriculum’s implementation, accord to the California EPA. 

While students like Omar Benitez are intensely interested in these classes, not all schools in Arizona offer green curricula. The Arizona Department of Education allows school districts and charter schools wide leeway in the ways ecology might be taught. The Arizona Academic Standards require basic instruction in the “impact of human activities on the environment” starting in third grade, but green lessons plans are just an option. 

Benitez says that what he learned at school are tools that his and future generations need to be good stewards of our planet. 

“What I learned was creative problem-solving,” he says. “There are lots of problems in this country that will need creative problem-solving principles to provide solutions. We have to start thinking about how we do things for a more sustainable future.”

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