Written by students Sam Hokkanen ’23 and Amia Carrillo Ramanathan ’23, joint Editors-in-Chief for The Crozier, O’Dowd’s online student newsletter.
As smoke gathered over the Bay Area horizon in September, Bishop O’Dowd High School hosted one stop of the Northern and Central California Green Strides Tour. The tour celebrates schools around the country who have implemented environmentally conscious practices in their communities. The Green Strides Tour also seeks to rekindle the interest and progress surrounding environmental issues and environmentally friendly practices. The O’Dowd event was attended by the U.S. and California Departments of Education, as well as educators and leaders in environmental sustainability from around the Bay Area.
An array of people gathered around O’Dowd’s Center for Environmental Studies (CES), which stands above the state-of-the-art Living Lab, a 4-acre hilly plot of land that includes a native plant community, certified wildlife habitat, and a sustainable garden. This acclaimed resource for environmental studies, service learning, and sustainable practices was completed in the year 2000 and has undergone ecological restoration annually ever since. It took a dedicated group of people in the O’Dowd community to complete this project and make sure it has run smoothly for over two decades. Every year, student volunteers as well as volunteers from the community participate in living lab service planting trees, gardening, and fostering connections.
The CES features two large science laboratories and a covered outdoor classroom. Per O’Dowd, “Together the Living Lab and CES create an experiential and multidisciplinary learning platform for students…empowering them to become the next generation of environmental and sustainability leaders.” The Living Lab not only provides a space for students, but it also uses 75,000 pounds of compost to fertilize the soil and many vegetables and fruits grown in its garden are used in the school cafeteria. O’Dowd is nationally recognized for these specific achievements, along with the implementation of sustainable practices across campus. In 2014, O’Dowd was nominated for the silver Green Ribbon Award and the gold award in 2015, winning both.
According to administration, O’Dowd is implementing sustainable practices on campus in various ways. For example, approximately 50-55% of the O’Dowd campus is powered by solar panels, which are located on the roofs of several buildings around campus. To conserve water, O’Dowd recently surveyed every single pipe across campus and fixed all the leaks. Additionally, O’Dowd is consistently striving for zero waste, primarily through the usage of compostable dishes, silverware, and napkins in the cafeteria. O’Dowd is also providing a plethora of recycling and composting stations across campus, as well as signs to aid people in properly sorting their trash. The O’Dowd campus also includes nine charging stations for fully electric cars and three transportation buses to and from school. However, one of the biggest sustainability projects is O’Dowd’s brand new baseball/softball field, which was completed this past spring. The softball field utilizes an advanced water system that automatically cuts off sprinklers when enough water is applied and takes into account rainfall in how much water is given. The lower field was re-turfed right before this football season using professional-grade synthetic turf, which is made of sand and crushed olive pits. This eco-friendly turf replaced the original turf of crushed tires which is notoriously bad for the environment.
George Garcia, the program lead for the California Green Ribbon schools under the California Department of Education, noted, “O’Dowd has all the members of its school community on board with the same vision to bring environmental literacy, sustainability, and health and wellness to the entire school …. from the ground to the roof, from the Living Lab to the classroom environments. This is not a siloed approach. It’s a collaborative approach to environmental literacy, and O’Dowd embodies that.” Mr. Garcia emphasized the fact that O’Dowd is extremely dedicated to environmental sustainability and serves as a prime example for other schools to follow. It was an honor for O’Dowd to host the Green Strides Tour this year, and the O’Dowd community hopes to continue to serve as a sustainability example to schools across the state.
For more information about the Green Strides Tour, the Green Ribbon Award, and an in-depth look at environmental sustainability across the country, click here.