CARLSBAD — Buena Vista Elementary School’s environmental curriculum went into overdrive last week when The Ecology Center’s double-decker bus rolled onto campus.
Buena Vista is one of a growing number of schools using project-based learning to teach recycling, sustainability and how to improve health and wellness.
The Ecology Center is a San Juan Capistrano-based nonprofit that is a hub for reducing carbon footprints, recycling, composting, growing food, saving water and much more. The center decided it was time to hit the road, bringing field trips to the schools with an ecology lab on wheels.
The Ecology Center’s mission fits in with some of the curriculum at Buena Vista, said Principal Tina Howard. Her school started its “Earthitude” campaign two years ago, focusing on the three aforementioned pillars; and the school also has a garden and was the first institution to host the mobile workshop.
“We’re building it over a three-year time period with the goal of getting the Green Ribbon School award,” Howard said of the program. “We’ve been researching ways to get the kids involved in sustainability activities.” The school sorts its trash and has project-based learning in kindergarten and transitional kindergarten around composting.
The Ecology Center, meanwhile, has been hosting school field trips for years, but the time was right to expand its reach. The bus will be housed at the Encinitas Union School District’s Farm Lab.
In addition, Jonathan Zaidman, director of regional expansion for the center, said the nonprofit and school district signed an agreement for the center to build a new facility at the farm.
He said the center reached out to specific schools for its spring pilot program. The rest of the semester is booked, as 10 schools including Buena Vista have signed on.
The program spans four days (Wednesdays through Saturdays), the first three of which are for students at the schools, and Saturdays are open to the community.
“The kids can bring their parents, the faculty and the people that live in that community to share in those ecological skills and workshops,” Zaidman said. “If we can replicate some of the functions of The Ecology Center … that was really the focus of the buses experience.”
According to Chelsea Huddleston, The Ecology Center Road Trip Education director, programming consists of workshops and curriculum based on each grade level. The program is in a testing phase, which will then be evaluated over the summer.
Huddleston said lessons center on simple changes students can make at home or school from starting to an herb garden, gathering rainwater, composting and other initiatives. The bus has been retrofitted with a kitchen, appliances, seed wall and interactive spaces.
“The idea of the bus is to take The Ecology Center on the road,” she said. “We can reach a larger audience and expand our impact. They can take those tools, create and implement them to create their own ecological oasis.”
The bus will also make appearance during Carlsbad’s Earth Day celebration on April 22 at the Cole Library, Zaidman said, as well as the official Earth Day event in San Juan Capistrano.