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.
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!
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!