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Manhattan Beach Schools, Parents, Students Lead in 'Green' Initiatives

Feb 05, 2024 07:22PM ● By Leila Meftah

Pacific Elementary students show their commitment to being "green." Photo via MBUSD.

The Manhattan Beach Unified School District has worked since 2012 to instill resource efficiency and sustainability education into the fabric of its eight schools. In the past dozen years, MBUSD has emerged as a trailblazer, earning a gold medal in the California Green Ribbon District competition and being honored by the US Department of Education as a National "Green Ribbon" district.

This year, that commitment has grown more extensive, as MBUSD parents, leaders, and students have made new inroads in conservation and the elimination of waste.

At the most recent MBUSD board meeting, Deputy Superintendent Dawnalyn Murakawa-Leopard provided a comprehensive update on the district’s green initiatives. The district's newest efforts include the elimination of single-use plastic water bottles and plastic utensils; the establishment of a district-wide Share Table program to collect and donate excess, unwanted, unopened, uneaten food items to programs that fight hunger; the use of 100% clean and renewable energy  across all schools and facilities through the Clean Power Alliance; the installation of thirty-eight hydration stations district-wide; the capturing of stormwater in various ways, including the installation of permeable pavers in the Stadium Way project; and finally, the extensive use of native plants in landscaped areas. 

“Environmental stewardship has long been a priority for many people within the district and the community,” MBUSD Deputy Superintendent Dawnalyn Murakawa-Leopard told MB News.

Furthering the green cause, Lena Agee, MBUSD's director of food and nutrition, has collaborated with MBUSD and neighboring districts to implement sustainable practices, such as bulk purchasing of wooden utensils and developing the Garden to Table program.

According to Murakawa-Leopard, Agee “has a deep understanding of all of the intricate, complex, and stringent regulations and legal requirements around serving food in schools, and she has a talent for hearing a new idea and finding a way to implement it in a way that is legally compliant while also serving our green goals.”

In all five elementary schools in MBUSD, students are taken through the process of growing their own produce and utilizing it for their school lunches, which helps students learn about where food comes from, and how to reduce waste. These initiatives not only curb waste and plastic use but also empower students to carry environmental awareness beyond the school gates. Students also participate in trash sorting programs to separate organics and recyclables to reduce landfill waste.

(Students in the garden at Meadows Elementary. Photo via MBUSD)

MBUSD elementary schools have additional environmental awareness programs that encourage widespread participation, including gardens, a costume exchange, walk-or-wheel-to-school days, no-idle zones in pickup lines, green campus maintenance, and meatless Mondays.

“Our green initiatives spark curiosity in our youth from elementary school, and throughout their educational journey, we see them become more passionate about being eco-friendly in different ways. By the time they reach high school, many students are working independently to reduce their carbon footprint through their own projects.” said Murakawa-Leopard.

Parents Instrumental In Green Initiatives

MBUSD deepened its connection to environmental consciousness starting in 2012 when four parents at Grand View Elementary brought environmental education and programs to the school, laying the groundwork for what is now Grades of Green, a nationwide nonprofit that educates and empowers students to take action and lead environmental change. Chrissie Clay, a longtime volunteer and board member of Grades of Green, said that the parents were driven by a sense of responsibility to foster better habits among students, especially given Manhattan Beach's coastal location.

(Students in the Grand View Elementary garden. Photo via MBUSD)

Clay also serves as leader of the district's Green Committee, which works to encourage students and parents to implement habits into their lives that will improve the environment. Regarding the district's effort to teach students how to properly dispose of their waste, she said, “If you catch them young, the theory is that as they grow up, they just know what goes where. It becomes automatic - like wearing a seatbelt. They know how and they know why and they just do it."

(Students in the Pacific Elementary garden. Photo via MBUSD)

Michelle Porter, another parent on the Green Committee, is encouraging families to use crafts and supplies already at home to make cards this Valentine's Day instead of driving to stores to help reduce carbon emissions. Moving forward, she said, what's important is “getting the community involved - teachers, parents, the PTA - getting everyone on board to understand where we can have an impact and where we can make the biggest change.”

Ultimately MBUSD wants to build lifetime habits and make environmental considerations just part of the norm within the district. According to Murakawa-Leopard, MBUSD strives not just to educate but to serve as a beacon, inspiring a lifetime commitment to sustainable practices.

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