The future of clean energy, starting students out on a solid environmental foundation

While Peninsula Clean Energy is working diligently to meet today’s energy needs, we’re also nurturing the next generation of innovators. To help educators bring environmental literacy into classrooms, Peninsula Clean Energy gave $25,000 to the San Mateo County Office of Education in 2018 to start a Clean Energy Teacher Fellowship. Ormondale Elementary School kindergarten teacher Silvia Martinez was one of those lucky teachers.

“I thought it was important for the students to be more aware of the environment in ways that they can understand it, so hopefully in the future they can solve problems,” says Martinez, who actually started teaching her students about the environment eight years ago. “It gives them the power to do something about it.”

Martinez says she was able to gain valuable professional development through the fellowship program as well as comprehensive support in developing lessons. That support includes ensuring curriculum meets the state’s Next Generation Science Standards and Environmental Principals and Concepts requirements, while still enabling her to tailor lessons to what works best in her classroom.

“There’s a lot of hands-on activities for them to touch, feel and experience and then get their knowledge and build upon that,” she says.

While kindergartners aren’t ready to understand the science behind solar panels and greenhouse gasses, students in Martinez’s classroom learn about renewable energy by building paper wind turbines and experimenting with a solarpowered K’Nex merry-go-round. And instead of building holiday gingerbread houses — which end up uneaten and thrown away after a few weeks — Martinez’s students design and make a model clean energy house.

“They know about wind power, solar energy and recycling, but we also add other things like insulation and we add in roof top plants, we add in a lot of windows and a garden, rain barrels to make this earth-friendly house,” she says. “The goal is for them to be able to walk away from this with an understanding that they could make simple changes to the energy system and still protect their environment.”

And it isn’t just Martinez’s class that’s benefited from the fellowship. She’s been able to integrate Earth-friendly practices and learning experience across the entire campus.

“We’ve had assemblies where our students teach others. We have worm bins for the entire school, we have beautiful school gardens where we use the compost we get from that,” she says. “I think it’s wonderful we have this resource. It’s so important.”

This Fellowship was held prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. The 2020-21 Clean Energy Teacher Fellowship will be held as a remote opportunity. For more information, visit the San Mateo Environmental Learning Collaborative Teacher Fellowship website.