Spotlight: Desert Vista

After last week’s brief detour to learn about outreach efforts, we’re back looking at project schools. Omaya Ahmad – A third year PhD student who studies water issues in Arizona – is going to tell us about her work with Desert Vista.

Welcome to Desert Vista

Q – Could you introduce us to your sustainability team at Desert Vista?
A – Desert Vista (DV) has a small but extremely potent and enthusiastic sustainability team! I must first mention Kristine Rademacher-Gorovitz, the school’s AP environmental science teacher. Not only is she planning multiple sustainability related projects for her students to complete this school year, she meets with me on a weekly basis to draw sustainability concepts into the lessons she teaches every week. In addition to all of that, she plays a pivotal role in planning and directing this year’s sustainability projects that are intended to incorporate the entire school. She leads DV’s sustainability PLC, which consists of 10 teachers from multiple disciplines. Other notable teacher involved in the PLC include: Daniel Zavaleta, an engineering teacher who is also heading multiple sustainability projects with his students this year; Gerald Theisman, an English teach who has gotten the entire sophomore English department on board to participate in a sustainability debate; Ross Walker, a biology teacher who is already conducting a year long sustainability project with his students; and Crystal McKenna, a biology teacher who in addition to working on a sustainability project with her students is trying to draw a connection between DV’s new sustainability curriculum with the that of a local community college. The list of teachers who are doing amazing things at DV grows from week to week. I am lucky to be swept up in their sustainability strides!

Q – This is your school’s first year as part of the Sustainable Schools project, right? How did they become a project school?]
A – Yes, this is the first year that DV will be involved in the the Sustainable Schools project. Nine DV teachers attended Chevron’s 2011 summer sustainability workshop in June along with other teacher representatives from the Tempe Union High School District (TUHSD) and the new GK-12 fellows, including myself. During that workshop when the teachers were given the chance to begin planning how to incorporate sustainability science at their schools, the DV team decided to choose a sustainability theme to guide their first year efforts. Their theme was “water sustainability.” As luck would have it, I introduced myself at the conference as a “water expert,” so the DV team quickly pulled me over to their table to help them brainstorm possibilities. That moment was literally the beginning of a wonderful collaboration. I was assigned DV’s full-time GK-12 fellow for the 2011-12 school year by the end of July in light of the enthusiasm the DV teachers possessed at the conference.

Q – I know the school year has just begun, but are there any exciting new projects on the horizon you’d like to tell us about?
A – It is a huge testament to the teachers of the school for me to be able to say that, while they’ve only been on board since June, there are already more than 15 planned sustainability projects in progress at this moment. All of them are unique, headed by different teachers, and most adhere to the school’s sustainability theme. For example, DV has a school garden committee comprised of a DV parent, the school counselor, Kristine, 4 students, and I. The plan is to build a desert garden in the middle of the school using drought resistant landscaping and novel watering techniques to decrease the campus urban heat island effect and improve sense of place. Daniel is working with his engineering students to foster innovation skills so that they utilize energy efficient mechanisms in their motorized constructions. He is also trying to open up a collaboration network between DV and a school he is working at in Fiji so as to promote sustainable livelihoods. Kristine and Crystal have their classes working out in the community to improve the sustainability practices of local business. On a larger scale, the school hopes to complete a campus water project that will result in the universal use of reusable water bottles. There are also some amazing plans brewing for Earth Week festivities. I’ll stop it here, but know that the list really does go on and on!

Potential future site for the new garden!

Q – Is there anything else you think we should know about?
A – Something interesting to keep in mind: the teachers who attended the summer sustainability workshop chose a fun name for their sustainability project. They identify the project as the Thunder Sustainability Initiative, after their school mascot, (TSI for short–which is a play on CSI since the teacher feel they are leading the sustainability investigations at their school). So, if you hear anything about the amazing work the TSI group is doing, know that it is connected to sustainability at DV!

Spotlight: Outreach

This week we’re taking a break from learning about our project high schools to meet our two outreach fellows and learn a little about what it is they do.

Q – Who are the outreach fellows?
A – We have two outreach fellows – Auriane Koster, a fourth year PhD student studying renewable energy implementation, and Sandra Rodegher, a third year PhD student studying influence and ethics in scenario planning.  This is both Auriane and Sandra’s second year as fellows with the Sustainable Schools program.

Q – What exactly do outreach fellows do?
A – That’s a hard one! What we do varies so much from week to week and even day to day! We might work with a school directly to provide support on a specific effort (such as starting a sustainability club or a school garden), provide workshops and support for teachers, or take students on a sustainability tour of ASU’s campus. Recently, we gave a presentation on Conceptual Modeling for Sustainability Science at the Arizona Science Teachers Association Conference.

Q – Do you have anything exciting coming up that you can share with us?
A – There are so many wonderful things coming up, but to just highlight a few events – This month we are gearing up to run workshops for Hebrew High that will culminate in their students creating and running their own educational sustainability booths at an event. Farther out on the horizon, we will be presenting at the Green Schools Conference in Colorado. We also hope to have some classroom resources up on the website within a month or so for those high school teachers looking to incorporate sustainability in their courses.

Q – Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
A – Yes. If you’re reading this and wondering if we can help you, then please contact us! Though we cannot fulfill every request we receive, we will definitely do our best to support your sustainability efforts. We can be reached via email at and Oh, and be sure to stay tuned for those sustainability lesson plans!

Spotlight: BioScience High School

Last week we spoke to Jen and Brendan about the great work going on at Tempe High School. This week we’re catching up with Katie to learn more about BioScience.

Q – Can you tell us a bit about the BioScience High Team? Aren’t you the only Fellow there?
A – I am the only fellow assigned to Bioscience this year, but Braden Kay, one of the past fellows at Bioscience, is still involved in implementing projects related to his dissertation. BHS is unique in that nearly every teacher (in a staff of about 20) is involved in sustainability projects, which makes our ‘team’ very versatile and interesting. All staff help coordinate the Connection Endeavors projects (more on this below), and most integrate sustainability principles, critical systems thinking, community engagement, and applied sustainability projects into their courses.

Q – This is BHS’s third year in the Sustainable Schools program, right? There must be a lot going on there!
A – Yes, BHS is a pretty established school in the program, and it has been home to some really committed fellows. Like I mentioned, Braden is still involved in and/or passed on the responsibility of some projects that were underway. Some of these projects include Connection Endeavors, Valley of the Sunflowers, and the CAN project. I’m also picking up his mentoring role in the E-Tech club.
Since there has been such great GK-12 fellow activity in the past, and since a lot of sustainability projects are imbedded in the Bioscience curriculum, there are actually quite a few projects I was able to jump on right away.

Q – Wow! That sounds like a lot! Can you tell us more?
A – Sure! Let’s start with the Connection Endeavors (CE). It is a year-long service-learning project. Each student choses from one of the following arenas: 1) Local Food (In partnership with Growhouse and the Downtown Phoenix Public Market), 2) Urban Vibrancy (In partnership with Roosevelt Row Community Development Corporation), and 3) Elementary Education (In partnership with Garfield Elementary School). Within each arena, students will use a seven-step sustainability transition management process to go from problem understanding and visioning to implementation and evaluation. Through using a seven-step process we hope to ensure student derive impactful community-based projects that meet community and student needs. I have been helping orchestrate this overall CE Plan, as well as work with the freshman as they learn the seven steps, and start applying them to campus projects.

Another project I’m working on is the Community Action for Nutrition (CAN) project that is a part of the Health & Fitness course. The class is partnering with the Roosevelt Row’s community garden, Growhouse, to conduct a yearlong endeavor that will help freshman link the food system to health. As an extension of their classroom experience, each of them will grow an edible plant at home in a recycled container. So far, we have taken the freshman over to Growhouse three times to learn about gardening tips. All the students have chosen a recycled container, prepared the soil, planted seeds, and are maintaining the plant.

I’m also one of the main mentors for the E-Tech club. The E-Tech club empowers students to explore, create and think about the world. Students participate in environmental and adventure education and form teams to develop leadership and technical skills. The club is meant to support a wide range of activities and is catalyzing changes at the school through the promoting green technologies, building garden and recreation equipment, and other projects. Some of their current projects include: building an alternative energy car, chicken coops, recreational facilities, and gardens. I’ve helped facilitate some of these project plans, and am currently helping secure funding and other resources so they can start!

Q – I just recently saw this video on the news about Valley of the Sunflowers. Does Sustainable Schools have anything to do with that?
A – As a matter of fact, yes! I’m not actually directly involved, but this was one of Braden’s projects over the last year, and it is just now taking off. Valley of the Sunflowers (VOS) operates through Roosevelt Row CDC and includes many community partners, including Bioscience High School. The goal is to reduce urban blight by temporarily activating and beautifying a prominent 2‐acre brownfield site located behind Bioscience by planting sunflowers. Bioscience staff and students have helped prepare the site, and plant the seeds, and will eventually help harvest the seeds and create a biofuel from the sunflower oil. The biodiesel will power the hybrid solar/biofuel vehicle, currently in production in the E-tech club. VOS is getting a ton of great press, and is really inspiring a lot of similar ideas within Bioscience and throughout downtown Phoenix.

Q – Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
A – There are a few other class projects going on at Bioscience that deal with composting, biodiesel and alternative energies, issues related to a local Superfund site, campus improvements, and others. I look forward to sitting in on more classes and getting to know more about all the ‘going ons’ so I can figure out where else I can be a resource.