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.