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San Mateo County Sustainability Department Schools Program


The Sustainability Department provides educational materials, technical support and helpful resources in the areas of waste reduction and diversion, energy conservation, and watershed and coastal community protection. All available resources are free for all public, private, charter or home-school educators in San Mateo County. Please contact us at, subject line: Schools Program, to let us know how we can help you.

virtual learning Virtual Learning and Curricular Support
Browse free lessons, video tutorials, find additional environmental literacy resources from community partners, or request presentations or material resources from our office.
  • Next Generation Science Standards aligned environmental literacy lessons with step by step instructions and student ready printables.
  • Technical assistance for environmental literacy integration curricula into classroom lessons.
  • Free 4R’s learning game sets on waste sorting and solid waste management systems.
  • Virtual and Interactive 4R’s learning games.
  • Virtual K-12th grade interactive classroom presentations on the 4R’s, worm composting, plastic pollution or other sustainability topics.
  • Instructional YouTube Videos: DIY Solar Ovens, DIY Re-Use No Sew Tote Bag 
  • Resource kits library for educators needing interactive project-based lessons. Currently available: Recycled Paper Making, Solar Oven Re-Use, CD Spinners Re-Use, and Classroom/Home Worm Composting System.
  • Home Energy and Water Saving Toolkit available at any community public library in San Mateo County.
virtual learning At School and in Classrooms Curricular Support
Expand this tab to explore the different ways our team of educators can partner with you to enhance your sustainability and environmental literacy units.
student backpack
  • Next Generation Science Standards aligned environmental literacy lessons with step by step instructions, student ready printables and lesson plans.
  • Technical assistance for environmental literacy integration curricula into classroom lessons.
  • School-wide and grade level assemblies on the 4R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot/Compost).
  • Free 4R’s classroom game sets and Schools Program staff facilitation on waste sorting and waste management systems.
  • Classroom presentations and workshops on worm composting, backyard composting, plastic pollution and more.
  • 4R’s classroom field trips to local transfer stations, material recovery facilities and/or closed and landfills. Please note – a limited number of classroom field trips are awarded per year and teachers must apply through a lottery system via application found in our annual Schools Program newsletter.
  • Be Seen Keepin’ It Clean school-wide litter collection event in coordination with local waste haulers.
  • In-person support and resources for green teams, environmental clubs, and school staff conducting waste assessments or waste audits to analyze ways in which to improve recycling, composting and reuse on school campuses.
  • Resource kits library for educators needing interactive project-based lessons. Currently available: Recycled Paper Making, Solar Oven Re-Use, CD Spinners Re-Use, and Classroom Worm Composter System.
school waste bin monitors

Free Curriculum


Our team of educators is continuously creating or curating classroom lessons to support environmental awareness,  increase environmental literacy, inspire environmental stewardship, support sustainability in action, and highlight environmental intersections across traditional educational subjects. All of our lessons are structured using the 5E (Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, Evaluate) curriculum model, and follow the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and Common Core Standards.

We strive to provide a variety of engaging activities for in class and virtual instruction, varied learning abilities, and all grade levels. Jump to OOS Schools Program Lessons


Are you in need of classroom materials to put sustainability learning into action? Whether you are teaching the 4R’s or watersheds, we have useful materials available to help make your classroom a living learning lab. Jump to OOS Schools Program Material Resources

Educator Champions

The OOS Schools Program is delighted to highlight sustainability champions in our schools! Read some stories below to find out how we’ve partnered with educators across the County to bring real results and change to students in school and in their communities.

case studySorting Our Way to Success With a Little Help From Some Squiggly Friends

Teacher Charlotte Gonzales developed a Zero Waste Unit during the 2019-2020 San Mateo Environmental Learning Collaborative Summer Institute (now known as the Environmental Solutionary Teachers Fellowship) at the San Mateo County of Education. 

One part of her lesson was having OOS Schools Program staff visit her classroom to introduce her students to the 4R’s and sorting waste by recycling or composting with 4R’s Board Game play. Additionnally, OOS staff introduced the students to vermicomposting by facilitating a classroom worm composting workshop.

After Ms. Gonzales introduced her students to the essential question,”What is waste and how can it be sorted?” the students began applying their knowledge about the 4R’s and waste reduction by taking a more critical look at the waste generated by the class in their own classroom. As a result of these careful observations, students determined that they needed to implement composting in the classroom and increase their own recycling habits.

This led to the a yearlong task of taking on their breakfast waste by sorting it very carefully and diverting both organics and recyclables from their meals away from landfill to recycling and composting instead. They also adopted a pound of red earthworms and started a classroom worm bin to help divert some of their leftover food on site. 

By the end of the year, Ms. Gonzales’ class learned to save uneaten food instead of just throwing it away as garbage, and learned that their leftover fruit and veggie waste could be eaten by worms to create compost for their school garden. Furthermore, students felt empowered to share the importance of sorting and composting by presenting their learned experience to other classes at their school! 

And all that separating food scraps from trash led to real world results. By submitting a report on their work to the Green Star Schools online sustainability actions forum, it was calculated that students saved 3,095 lbs of CO2e emissions from being released into the atmosphere.

The class received a Green Star Schools certificate recognizing their efforts and their work lives on at the Green Star Schools leaderboard for anyone wanting to replicate their awesome work in their own classroom!

case study Integrating Experiential 4R’s Programming Into CA 7th Grade Science Curriculum

Partnerships with teachers like Corinna Low from Westborough Middle School in South San Francisco are an excellent example of how collaboration between schools and local government agencies leads to lasting change in San Mateo County communities. Through participation in the OOS Schools Program, including the Green Stars Schools program, and the Environmental Solutionary Teachers Fellowships, a program of San Mateo County Office of Education, Ms. Low has integrated waste diversion activities into her science curriculum.

Students use the concepts of Laws of Conservation of Energy and Matter to examine the life cycle of different everyday products and their city’s waste practices and laws. OOS Schools Program staff have worked with Ms. Low to enhance class work with hands-on and experiential learning activities in her six 7th grade science classes. The students have played the OOS 4R’s Unit games to review and evaluate their knowledge of waste reduction practices and concepts. OOS Schools Program staff have also presented on the topic of plastic pollution and marine debris which led to a bioplastics lab analyzing the durability of the different types of bioplastics. For a final project, students were asked to develop persuasive writing campaigns around their choice of waste issues. 

Students did everything from writing their district superintendent about reducing single use waste in the school cafeteria; to urging boba shops to change their straws; to writing songs about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch! Students were rewarded with field trips to the South San Francisco Scavenger (SSF) Scavenger/Blue Line transfer station, where OOS and SSF Scavenger staff led students through the transfer station where they got a first-hand look at the process of waste management from their own homes, schools and businesses in the community. In addition, during the school year many of Ms. Low’s students joined the Planeteers, Compost, and WeCyclers Clubs; clubs that are now a pivotal part of lasting and relevant sustainable actions at Westborough Middle School. 

Many of these sustainable student actions from the year 2019-20 were documented and uploaded into the Green Star Schools website where it was calculated that Westborough Middle School prevented a whopping 149,182 lbs of CO2e from being released into the atmosphere! 

case studyGrowing Lasting Change and Coalition Building in the San Mateo Union High School District

Ms. Jessica Valera, a science teacher at Aragon High School, has become an instrumental part of her school’s waste diversion projects.

OOS staff began working with Ms. Valera in her first year back at Aragon in 2018 with Biology and Advanced Placement Environmental Science (APES) classes. During this time Ms. Valera realized that the APES classes were an excellent opportunity to utilize the OOS Schools Program free resources to enhance and supplement the APES curriculum. The OOS team met with her classes to complement and support her units several times throughout the school year. For a final project in the APES classes, Ms. Valera assigned the students to analyze the waste systems on campus.

The students’ investigation led to a resolution to improve Aragon High School’s campus-wide waste diversion rates. To follow up on the students findings, during the 2019-20 school year, Ms. Valera applied for and received a 4R’s Mini Grant to improve the school’s waste infrastructure and sorting on campus. Additionally, Ms. Valera joined the San Mateo County Office of Education (SMCOE) Environmental Solutionary Teacher Fellowships program. The year-long stipended program supports administrators in the development and implementation of a sustainability project in their school community. With the assistance of Fellowship and an OOS 4R’s Mini Grant, Ms. Valera guided her APES students to successfully implement a three-stream bin system at Aragon High as part of the What Bin, Aragon? project, with more APES students. 

Even though the project was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many students in their end of the year course reflection cited the What Bin, Aragon? project was their favorite part of AP Environmental Science. They felt that this project was the most impactful school assignment of the year. Students were engaged and empowered by the process of making a change on campus that was related to content they were learning about in class. Many of them cited skills outside of content knowledge as being their biggest areas of growth; public speaking, taking on an educator role, and advocating within their social groups for more sustainable practices on campus.  

The What Bin, Aragon? project at Aragon turned out to be somewhat of a pilot for larger district initiatives and sustainability projects. Throughout the school closure and through the summer, Ms. Valera stayed connected with a group of students and teachers working together on a Zero Waste plan for the district. They had the chance to present to the district superintendent, Dr. Kevin Skelly, and the Director of Facilities on November 18th, 2020. Dr. Skelly was extremely supportive of sustainability initiatives and practices throughout the San Mateo Union High School District and encouraged the students to think even bigger in terms of the impact that they can have on our schools and surrounding communities. Ms. Valera continues to work with this group, which now meets monthly with Dr. Skelly to put together a sustainability plan along with community partners to bring our schools into the post-COVID chapter of environmentally responsible infrastructure and practices that are guided by shared values of sustainability. 

KQED picked up on the coalition building work led by our local high school students. Read the article here.

Send Us a Message

  • Are there other ways that the OOS Schools Program can help you practice the 4R’s with your school or group/s?