Environmental Quality / 2013

Grades of Green Los Angeles Youth Corps

Grades of Green  Los Angeles Youth Corps

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Grades of Green

THE IDEA

Grades of Green, a California based non-profit dedicated to making environmental protection second nature in young minds, proposes to use the LA2050 grant monies to create a Los Angeles Chapter of its Youth Corps (“LAYC”).

An offshoot of Grades of Green’s existing Youth Advisory Board, the LAYC will be Los Angeles based and project-oriented. The LAYC will be made up of teams of three to six students at 10 Los Angeles schools who will work together to implement a Green Project at their school or in their local community in the summer and fall of 2013. The teams can choose to implement one of Grades of Green’s high-impact environmental activities detailed on our website, such as “Trash Free Tuesdays” or “Walk to School Wednesdays,” or an environmental project of their own creation.

THE DETAILS

Using Grades of Green’s extensive school network (169 schools world-wide and growing), our partnerships with Los Angeles area schools, as well as our many media contacts, we will advertise the LAYC beginning this spring and pick 10 school teams to serve on the LAYC. We will make every effort to have at least five of the 10 schools come from underserved areas.

Once the 10 teams are in place, Grades of Green staff will work with the teams to perform environmental assessments at their schools to identify a Green Project that would best suit their schools’ needs. Once the Green Projects have been chosen and signed off on by the school administration, the students will work with Grades of Green to develop an implementation plan. Each team will receive a portion of the grant money to execute its Green Project. Over the summer, Grades of Green will hold an LAYC Orientation Day for the teams to come together, share their ideas and receive training from Grades of Green staff.

Once school starts in the fall, Grades of Green staff will work with the teams to hold a kick-off day at each school and then to roll out their Green Projects. The 10 LAYC teams will have until December 1, 2013 to complete their projects. Once the projects are complete, Grades of Green will hold an LAYC Celebration Night where the teams will share the results of their Green Projects with one another, Grades of Green staff and board members and representatives from LA2050 and the Goldhirsh Foundation. Grades of Green will seek press coverage of the event, as well as of the LAYC, their Green Projects and successes.

THE IMPACT

As detailed in the LA2050 Report, Los Angeles’ Environmental Quality, while improving, still has a long way to go. At Grades of Green, we believe the best way to ensure future environmental sustainability is to make environmental protection second nature in our children. It is our children who will continue the work cleaning up Los Angeles’ air, expanding upon current water conservation efforts and recognizing the importance of providing safe, clean, green outdoor space to all Angelenos. Put simply, it is our children who will get us where we need to be in 2050.

But where can kids learn and become inspired about the importance of protecting the environment? Unfortunately, environmental education is not part of our public schools’ curriculum. This is where Grades of Green comes in. Identifying the need and desire for environmental education and action in schools, yet recognizing the reality of shrinking budgets and limited resources, Grades of Green was founded to bring fun, hands-on environmental education programs into the classroom at no or low cost to schools. Over the last three years, we have brought much-needed environmental education to 169 schools worldwide.

The impact of the LAYC will extend far beyond the benefits each Green Project will bring to the schools and their communities. The participating students will learn first-hand the power of their own actions to make a difference, which will create a ripple effect, inspiring other students, parents, educators, community and business leaders within their greater school communities.

While we anticipate the greatest impact of this program to be on Los Angeles’ long-term Environmental Quality, we also expect impacts across the Education and Social Connectedness Indicators. On the education front, our website provides schools access to over 40 free tools and activities to raise environmental awareness and protect their local environment. Schools have found our environmental education resources a great supplement to their curricula, including programs aligned with California’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) standards. In terms of Social Connectedness, the LAYC will bring kids and communities together from across the city and socio-economic boundaries to share their ideas and experiences. The LAYC will also provide valuable hands-on lessons to the participants and their school communities about the importance of volunteerism and civic engagement.


What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?

EXPANSION & RECOGNITION

Since our website launched just three years ago on Earth Day 2010, Grades of Green has grown rapidly and expanded internationally with more than 104,000 students in 27 states and four countries enrolled in our programs. Grades of Green has been honored with several awards over the last four years, including the Environmental Protection Agency’s prestigious Environmental Award, a United States Conference of Mayors Award, as well as being instrumental in two Grades of Green schools being designated as “Green Ribbon Schools” by the U.S. Department of Education.

PROGRAM WORK

Through our program work, we have brought and are bringing real environmental change to our communities. Some examples include: helping more than 50 Los Angeles County schools divert over 50,000 bags of trash from local landfills through our Trash Free Lunch Program; helping several California schools districts stop the use of toxic cleaning supplies in their schools; performing a “greening” of 10 underserved schools in the Los Angeles area and helping them set up waste reduction programs, including in-class recycling and lunch-time sorting systems; and assisting several local schools end the use of Styrofoam trays at lunch time. Should we receive one of the LA2050 grants, we look forward to continuing this hands-on program work in the schools within the LAYC.

EMPOWERING OUR YOUTH

While we are proud of the recognition our organization has received and the projects we have led, we believe our most important work is teaching our children that they have the power to make a difference. As noted above, it was Grades of Green students who went to their City Councils in Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach to ask for bans of plastic bags and Styrofoam. Inspired by those stories, El Segundo High School students recently went to their City Council to ask that additional recycling containers be placed around town.

Several of our existing Youth Corps students have received national and regional recognition for their environmental efforts, including Grace C and Sam H who were named as Champions for Change by the White House, and Max R and Reese R, who were featured in a Washington Post article about banning Styrofoam.

Other Youth Corps and Grades of Green students are tackling environmental problems big and small at their schools and in their communities. For example, Yaeeun H is using Grades of Green 3R curriculum to teach kids at her school about how and why to protect the environment; Sydney H, a sixth grader, is organizing an e-waste collection drive at her school; Sam H is collecting used shoes to donate to Soles for Souls; and Lauren S and Jenna R, both sixth graders, are working to plant a native garden at their school. These kids are the future of Los Angeles and our best hope of making our vision for Los Angeles a reality in 2050.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

At Grades of Green we are fortunate to have many partners and collaborators, including local e-waste collection agencies and area waste haulers who help our schools implement recycling, composting and other trash reduction efforts. We also have relationships with a number of governmental agencies, including the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts and the South Coast Air Quality Management District, as well as with many environmental non-profits, including Heal the Bay, Healthy Child Healthy World, the Coalition for Clean Air and 5 Gyres to name a few. Once the LAYC teams have decided upon their projects, we will reach out to these partners as appropriate to ask for their help and/or support.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?

Measuring outcomes is one of Grades of Green’s strengths. It is our standard operating procedure to prepare final reports for all of our grants. Moreover, we also prepare impact reports for each of the schools in which we perform our programs.

Additionally, many of the programs on our website are metric based; that is, we encourage the students to collect data prior to implementing the program and then take those same measurements once the project is complete. For example, with our Trash Free Lunch Program, we work with the schools to measure the amount of trash produced on a daily basis at their school as well as the number of weekly waste hauler pick ups before program implementation. Once the sorting and trash reduction systems are in place, the students collect that data again and can see first-hand what a huge difference their project is making, both in terms of savings to their school and amount of trash diverted from local landfills.

The LAYC Green Projects will be evaluated on similar metric systems. As part of the initial eco assessment at each school, we will help the student teams gather their starting or “baseline” numbers. We will then work with them at the end of their Green Projects to gather the end data and compile their numbers. Part of their final presentations at the Celebration Night will be sharing their numeric results. We have found that gathering and analyzing this kind of data has been one of the most powerful lessons for the kids, as they see in a very concrete way the power of their individual and collective actions.

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?

Grades of Green’s LAYC will benefit Los Angeles in several important ways.

First and foremost, each participating school and school community will receive direct environmental benefit from that school’s Green Project, be it a Walk to School Wednesday or Trash-Free Tuesday Lunch Campaign, an e-Waste Collection, a Campus-Wide Detox, a Compost System Implementation, a clean up of a local park or beach or whatever Green Project the team chooses to implement. Results of the Green Projects will range from fewer carbon emissions, less trash sent to local landfills, proper disposal of electronic materials, the elimination of toxic chemicals on campus and so on.

Additionally, each of the 10 participating schools will become a “Grades of Green School” with access to over 40 free, fun and hands-on environmental education tools and activities they can continue to implement on campus for the years to come. The schools can build on their experience and success and take on additional green activities as they are ready. Statistics indicate, and our experience confirms, that when schools implement programs like the ones we have detailed on our website, the schools typically save money, test scores go up and students learn valuable lessons about the power their individual actions can have in helping to protect the environment.

Moreover, we have found that by educating and inspiring our kids to care for and protect the environment, we are raising environmental awareness in our communities through a “trickle up” approach. That is, when students learn, for example, about the “4Rs” – reduce, reuse, recycle and rot (composting) – they often go home and ask their parents to help them pack trash free lunches or set up recycle and/or composting systems at home. Students also take these ideas to their teachers and administrators and ask for their help making their schools cleaner and greener. We have even seen students empowered by our education programs petition their local governments for environmental measures. In Manhattan Beach, for example, Grades of Green kids were the impetus behind the City banning the use of plastic bags. Hermosa Beach students were credited with convincing their City Council to ban the use of Styrofoam containers in local restaurants. The LAYC will inspire and empower students to care for and protect the environment; those students, in turn, will inspire and empower their broader school community, including their parents, educators, community leaders and businesspeople to care for and protect the environment. This ripple effect will benefit the entire city of Los Angeles.

Finally, and most importantly, we are shaping the minds and habits of Los Angeles’ next generation of leaders, teachers, voters, executives and parents – the people who can make a difference in what Los Angeles looks like in 2050.

What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?

Grades of Green envisions a Los Angeles in 2050 in which environmental protection is second nature in the minds of our leaders, our populace and our children’s children.

The habits and knowledge gained from the work of the LAYC will serve as valuable lessons to teach kids to make better choices and appreciate the Earth’s natural resources throughout their lives. The LAYC students will have developed a sense of confidence and empowerment having been motivated by learning and discovery. They, in turn, will have passed these lessons on to their peers, communities and their own children.

Along with the efforts of other environmental organizations, the result will be a sustainable Los Angeles. Our schools will be free of chemicals, pesticides and fertilizers; our air will be cleaner as a result of using alternative energy, reducing energy consumption and kids walking, wheeling or carpooling to school; Angelenos will have reduced the amount of trash they generate by 80% through recycling and composting, as well as the amount of water used by 80% through continued conservation efforts. In sum, future generations will have a better opportunity to live in an environment with clean air, clean water and a clean Earth!

We invite you to view this video to learn more about Grades of Green and the work we are doing: http://youtu.be/WuPTypReZd8