Just days after Earth Day, state Superintendent Tom Torlakson visited Laguna Beach to bestow a new Green Achiever honor on Top of the World Elementary.
The school received the award, the first Green Ribbon School award made by the California Department of Education, for its three gardens and sustainable buildings as well as programs to reduce paper waste, save energy and collect weather data.
About 75 parents, staff and representatives from other schools in the state attended the occasion Monday, April 23, where TOW served as host of the state award ceremony.
“Top of the World Elementary has been providing robust and innovative education for students since its inception 50 years ago,” Laguna’s superintendent, Jason Viloria, told the audience.
Torlakson greeted educators and administrators from the other 30 public schools selected for the honor and related some of his own experiences as an environmental educator in the 1970s. He pointed out that California has long been a leader in the promotion of ecological awareness, citing John Muir, an advocate for national parks and wilderness preservation. And he made an appeal to the audience to challenge their students to “change lives, become teachers.”
Afterwards, district staff led tours of the campus gardens and three modular buildings designed for energy efficiency, which open to an outdoor courtyard and house science and music classes.
The award’s genesis in 2011 began when advocates of literacy groups, builder’s councils and environmental organizations lined up 80 nonprofits to request that the U.S. Department of Education honor schools for sustainable facilities, healthy practices, and effective environmental education.
Nominees cite their efforts in reducing environmental impact, improving wellness of students and staff and teaching science, technology, engineering, mathematics, civic skills, and green career pathways. Roughly 30 states participate.
Others played a role in helping TOW earn the green accolade.
Laguna Beach High School students involved in the Solar Club, led by physics teacher Jen Merritt, helped install a solar panel atop the TOW gardening shed. The panel powers a blender that club volunteers use to turn fruit harvested from the garden into smoothies for TOW third-, fourth- and fifth-graders.
TOW students also organized a coin drive that raised $2,000 for a school in Kenya. The proceeds purchased three dairy cows and a greenhouse. They started an ocean awareness club and organized another fundraiser to support cleaning up local waters. The students worked with trash hauler Waste Management to improve on-campus recycling and they organized a program that daily, sends uneaten pre-packaged food daily to the Laguna Beach Friendship Shelter, which assists people without homes back into the mainstream.
Additionally,a district contractor, Schneider Electric, helped trim energy usage with interior LED lighting, said a district spokeswoman.