Nea Community Learning Center embraces the baobab tree as a symbol for the school's community. Nea hopes to become a community gathering place where learners and community members can come together to investigate, understand and preserve the natural cycles of the world. Nea engages its learners in nature study and resource-use audits to connect personal actions with global issues and encourages students to apply their knowledge and skills to service-learning action projects on campus and in the community.
The Green Team at Nea Community Learning Center in Alameda meets weekly to tackle a range of environmental challenges. Sponsored by Pete Celona, the group handles tasks from organizing the school's recycling system to maintaining the garden.
In just 40 minutes each week, the group tackles an ambitious agenda.
A recent Wednesday started with a review of the school's participation in California's Coastal Clean-up effort. Celona showed news coverage from the event and two short videos highlighting the impact of plastic on the oceans. After a brief group discussion, the team made plans to report the results to the entire campus.
News coverage video from The Alamedan features Nea's Green Team in action.
The Green Team viewed and discussed MIDWAY a Message from the Gyre : a short film by Chris Jordan from Midway on Vimeo.
The group also viewed and discussed an excerpt from Charles Moore's TED Talk
Next, the group moved to a range of activities to support ongoing service and outreach efforts. Students created posters to promote upcoming "Walk and Roll to School" events, made audit sheets to track recycling efforts, and worked on posters showing the data from the beach clean-up.
The session wrapped up with a visit to the garden to discuss the stalled installation of an irrigation system. The garden leader reported that over the weekend he and his father did a range of work in the garden including cleaning out trash, pulling weeds, and improving safety. Based on the update, the Green Team discussed ways to address litter and weeding, then began developing plans to group plants together based on water needs.
With the class period wrapping up, Green Team members harvested a quick snack of garden fresh produce including grapes and tomatoes.
Stay tuned for more updates from Nea's Green Team!
In honor of Earth Day, Nea Community Learning Center celebrated its third annual Green Festival on Friday, April 19. Learners from Nea's upper village collaborated with classrooms from the lower village to design and build environmentally themed activities for the festival. The event has become an important part of the Nea community drawing scores of parents, younger siblings and interested neighbors to the event.
This year's event featured a range of newly imagined stations like Trashy Fashion and Island of Misfit Toys while preserving favorites like the Pedal Powered Smoothie station. The school's lead facilitator even led a question and answer session about her new electric vehicle.
Island of Misfit Toys - Parents and learners alike cleaned out closets and visited thrift stores to collect discarded, broken and abandoned toys. The items were set out on a large table with hot-glue guns, scissors and other tools. Participants mixed and matched the parts of various toys to make new creations, games and artwork.
Pedal-Powered Smoothies - Using a bicycle powered blender, learners made pedal-powered fruit smoothies to keep the crowd cool. To be extra green, smoothies are served in compostable paper cups or handmade origami cups which are both collected for composting.
Trashy Fashion - Learners collected a range of discarded clothes, fabrics and other materials to host a trashy fashion making booth. Organizers provided scissors, double-sided tape, and other supplies to allow visitors to re-think their clothing and make costumes out of found materials. One participant crafted a stylish pleated dress while others found inspiration in bubble wrap.
Water Bottle Bowling - Empty water bottles were set out as bowling pins on the blacktop's running lanes to create a bowling alley. Participants rolled kick-balls at the "pins" in a traditional bowling game.
Can Toss - Participants used bean-bags to try to knock over stacks of recycled cans
Race Against Waste Recycling Relay - Racing against the clock, participants working in teams ran a course to pick up recyclable, compostable and landfill items.
Seed Planting - Empty school-lunch milk cartons served as nifty containers for this hands on activity
Notebook Cover Mosaics - Participants tore colored scrap paper into small "tiles" and stuck them to reclaimed paper to make mosaic artwork for notebook covers
Environmental Buttons – Learners used reclaimed paper to create inspirational messages for Earth Day
Cloth Bag Design – Using colorful permanent markers, participants personalized personal-sized cloth bags
Aqua Lounge – Learners who successfully tossed paper through the correct waste basket "hoop" on this windy day were able to soak one of the school's facilitators with a 5 gallon bucket of water.
Learners in Matt Nolan's Social Justice and Sustainability cohort at Nea Community Learning Center want you to know that kids can make a difference. In a project studying the sources, spread and impacts of litter, they are combining knowledge and action.
One 5th grader explained, "We probably know more about this problem than adults, but even if adults do know about litter, we are actually doing something about it."
Over the last month, Nea's Garbologists have conducted litter audits to clean-up and study a variety of areas including a park near the school, street gutters, and a beach ½ mile from school. This action research will inform research papers and presentations to the community sharing findings and suggestions for reducing human impacts on the environment.
Using statewide coastal clean-up data, the Garbologists compare what they find on land to what is cleaned up at beaches in California every year. "Litter on the streets gets washed into gutters and storm drains, then out to sea," explains Matt Nolan. "We're discovering that items we use everyday eventually wash out to sea if not taken care of properly."
At Crab Cove beach in Alameda, the Garbologists worked in teams of 5-6 to collect, analyze and record data. Each team member filled specific roles such as "Refuse Wranglers- (Should be an expert on BOTH recycling and composting to make sure that only landfill items go into their bag);" "Compost Commanders," and "Rockin' Recorders- (Should be good at taking notes, listening, and math.)"
Teams found an abundance of cigarette butts, candy wrappers, and bits of plastic. They also found unusual items like single shoes, unopened mints and a baseball bat.
The Garbologists were particularly excited to find nurdles in the tide-line at the beach. Nurdles are pre-production plastic "pebbles" that are used as the raw input material for manufacturing a range of plastic items from toys to plastic bags. They find their way into the ocean when they are spilled from shipping containers at sea or are mishandled at plastic manufacturing facilities on land.
"Our friends at Wood Middle School have been studying nurdles for the last couple of years," explains Nolan. "They've learned that the nurdles collect a coating of persistent organic pollutants that humans have spilled into the oceans. Animals mistake the nurdles for food and ingest both the plastic and the pollution."
"They look like the little plastic beads in stuffed animals!" exclaimed one 5th grader who found a small handful of the beach-colored plastic. Soon, each team began finding nurdles everywhere. One parent chaperone lamented, "the planet is coated in plastic- we've got to do a better job."
The Garbologists plan to take what they find to encourage others to be more mindful. "We don't want to have this information just sitting in our brains- we have to take what we know and put it to work."
On Thursday, April 19, 2011, Nea Community Learning Center hosted its second annual Green Festival. Learners from upper grades partnered with younger classrooms to develop fun, educational, and earth friendly activity booths and games for the whole-school festival.
Long lines formed to enjoy smoothies mixed in a pedal-powered blender and served in origami folded paper cups made from reused paper; participants decorated balloons with scrap art supplies to make "Planet Pinatas;" and a variety of relay races encouraged learners to quickly sort materials to the correct bins.
Other activities included a "Darth Dunk" booth, a robot building workshop, and "boardwalk" style games of skill to knock down pyramids of recyclable cans.
Ms. Alameda, Jessica Robinson, arrived as her alter-ego- the super hero Recycle Woman. She encouraged the school to do the right thing every day by taking actions to help save the planet.
The Festival was organized by facilitators Matt Nolan and Nga Nguyen who view the event as an important part of the community's efforts to build relationships and leadership within the school.
Nea Community Learning Center's Green Team, led by Mr. Nguyen and composed of learners in the 6th-10th grades, participated in a Waste Audit on February 24th. The group sorted through 8 bags or garbage outside in the main lunch/play area. They predicted they'd find a lot of plastics, paper/cardboard, and compostable items. The overwhelming majority of the findings were paper items. During the waste audit, the students spotted a lot of plastic bags and unopened/uneaten food and food scraps.
They were surprised to see things like grade reports, a notebook covered in ants, a diaper, and a dog's chew toy. Quotes include: "This smells horrible," "This chocolate milk still has milk in it," and "This is crazy--so much paper."
On March 9th, the Green Team participated in an Action-Planning session, which consisted of a de-brief of the waste audit and a powerpoint presentation of the waste audit photos. Students then told the story of what they saw in the pictures. Afterwards, the students were led through a mind-mapping activity, where 4 small groups used the waste audit pie chart and their reactions to the waste audit findings to spark their thinking in planning waste reduction efforts.
Mr. Nguyen described the group's post-audit plans: "We are going to present to the entire student body during our weekly meeting called CCC (March 14th, 2012). The learners will present the data that EarthTeam collected with us. On Monday (March 12th), we came up with our overall plan to get all the homerooms to participate. Each day, a Green Team member will audit each of the homerooms at the end of lunch. At the end of the month, the room with the highest points will get a reward while the lowest will have clean-up duty. The points will also be going toward the Golden Cup award that each homeroom competes for throughout the year. I have spoken to the custodians. Each room will take their waste and recyclables to a container outside to be disposed of correctly. The custodians then will only take garbage from those containers to the big metal bins."