The District is committed to operating in a way that promotes sustainability and encourages activities that promote the efficient use of resources. As part of its extensive facilities modernization, the district added considerable solar power that generated well over a third of the district's electrical needs. The district is also engaged in numerous other sustainability initiatives in the areas of water use, recycling, and hazardous materials.
We believe that sustainability efforts help us achieve four important things. First, they mean that we use our financial resources more efficiently. Second sustainability helps us reduce our carbon footprint. Third, we can educate our students on how to save their own money and that of their families through appropriate use of resources, and finally, we provide an example of how to act sustainable to our students through our actions and activities.
June 2023: SMCOE Environmental Literacy and Sustainability Initiative Highlights Hillsdale and Bridge Program's Communtiy Gardens
May was Living Schoolyard Month! The San Mateo County Office of Education’s Environmental Literacy and Sustainability Initiative recently highlighted the recipients of its Living Schoolyard Grant program - including our very own Bridge Biodiversity and Sustainability Garden and Hillsdale High School’s Community Garden (in support of HHS Peace Pantry) projects.
The grant program was established to recognize that supporting the development of living schoolyards is an equitable way to provide regular access to high quality green spaces for every student at a school site.
Living Schoolyard Month is an annual celebration of green school grounds that was first established in 2014 as part of a California state resolution to promote the design and construction of outdoor green spaces for all students in K-12 public schools. A living schoolyard allows students and educators to spend restorative time in nature and engage in place-based learning. Additionally, living schoolyard elements can increase local biodiversity, benefit natural habitats, and integrate natural systems into the built environment.
Learn more about the 2022-23 Living Schoolyard Grant Program.
Read the highlights below about each of the gardens:
Peninsula High School Bridge Program
The Bridge Garden Project is designed, built, and maintained by students. The garden has become the cornerstone of the English Learner Introduction to Science class at the Bridge English Language Development Program, a program of Peninsula High School. Much of the curriculum around the garden this year focused on the role of healthy soils in climate resilience. Next year, the school hopes to expand impact and curricular ties to the garden in the areas of ecosystem ecology, cycling of matter and energy, and other sustainability topics. This grant allowed them to purchase two iPads that are being used to document building the garden and for delivering the garden-based curriculum.
Hillsdale High School
The Hillsdale High School Community Garden contributes fruits and vegetables to their Peace Pantry that feeds 130 school families every week. Through partnership with Each Green Corner, Second Harvest Food Bank, Empowerment Through Action, and community volunteers, they have expanded the garden to grow seasonal vegetables and maximize their yield. With the grant money, they have also put benches in the garden under the shade of an oak tree for students or staff to enjoy during class or break time.
May 2023: SMCOE Sustainable and Climate Resilient Schools Recognize Hillsdale with Award
Hillsdale High School’s Peace Pantry and Community Garden were recently recognized by San Mateo COunty Office of Education’s Sustainable and Climate Resilient Schools (SCRS) program with a Standout Award which recognizes a project that addresses one or more sustainability goals. The PEace Pantry and Community Garden are projects of Hillsdale’s Empowerment Through Action Program, an award-winning program established in Spring 2019.
ETA’s mission is to empower historically underserved students through a series of actions: weekly restorative meetings, community resource center, enrichment classes, career and job training, parent education, and family support to develop inner capital, resiliency, a sense of belonging and purpose.
October 2022: San Mateo Union High School District's Waste Management Efforts
Over the last several years, the District has made multiple efforts to improve its waste management; schools across the district are making efforts to boost sustainability. Here are some examples:
- Installed 20 tri-bin waste stations at four public high schools, and improved the labels/designs of additional stations at all seven public high schools. SMUHSD purchased and installed 800 waste bin labels across SMUHSD.
- Developed and held waste assessments at four public high schools, and consolidated that into a 4R’s Waste Assessment Report. At Burlingame High School, the Advanced Placement Statistics Class gathered pre and post data on student littering with the label intervention and found that labels helped reduce the quantity of trash in the quad areas: Survey Results
- Developed and administered a survey on zero waste and sorting practices which received 714 responses and informed the Sustainability Committee on their action steps.
At San Mateo High School, students on the green team have organized a series of lunch activities designed to raise awareness about sustainable sorting in an entertaining way. During Earth Week (the week before Earth Day in April), students set up a competitive game where students from various grades compete to see who can properly sort and dispose of waste through recycling, composting, or garbage. The event attracted hundreds of students and raised awareness about sustainable sorting.
At Hillsdale High School, the Environmental Club has spearheaded a Sort your Waste campaign involving videos and monitoring of Tri-bins. The videos feature various teachers showing how to dispose of waste properly; these videos have been shown in many of the school’s Advisory classes and have definitely increased student awareness about proper sorting. The club has also started a regular Tri-bin monitoring system, where teams of students station themselves at the five tri-bins on campus and “coach” other students on sorting. Club members plan to continue this kind of monitoring every other week and create more videos featuring student messaging on waste. The Environmental Club also plans to organize a lunch-time waste competition along the lines of San Mateo High Schools.
At Burlingame High School (and several other schools), students from the Green team worked with staff from the county Office of Sustainability to do a waste assessment Students examined the amount of waste in various bins to determine if students are properly disposing of waste. The information gathered from this activity can be used a baseline to measure the effectiveness of each school’s waste management.
September 2022: SMUHSD Receives $4.4 Million Grant for Eight Electric Buses
SMUHSD applied for grants from the Carl Moyer Program for replacement buses (electric) and for electric charging infrastructure. The District’s application was approved for $4.4 million which includes full funding of $400,000, each, for eight electric buses and associated infrastructure of $1.2 million.
At its September 15 Meeting, the SMUHSD Board of Trustees approved an agreement for zero emission planning infrastructure support to Sage Energy Consulting to begin to transition its bus fleet to electric buses. .
The California Air Resource Board (CARB)’s Carl Moyer Memorial Air Quality Standards Attainment (Carl Moyer) Program provides incentive grants for cleaner-than-required engines, equipment, and other sources of pollution providing early or extra emission reductions.
The District seeks to transition most of the bus fleet over the next 15 years.
June 2022: SMCOE Announces Sustainable and Climate Resilient Schools Challenge Award Recipients
The San Mateo County Office of Education announced the 24 standout leaders who received 2021-22 Sustainable and Climate Resilient Schools (SCRS) Challenge awards for their efforts to create sustainable school communities during the 2021-22 school year.
The awards recognize students, administrators, teachers, and community members who have organized projects that address one or more sustainability goals drawn from the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and One Planet Living Framework. Each project also focuses on increasing the sustainability of campus facilities and operations sustainability, creating curriculum that addresses environmental topics, and/or building community environmental awareness.
Despite a challenging year, participants submitted a wide variety of projects such as district-wide efforts to institutionalize sustainability efforts, living schoolyards, zero waste initiatives, and environmental-based solutionary teaching and learning. These standout leaders are being recognized across ten (10) of the public school districts, in addition to private schools and community organizations, from across San Mateo County.
The District as a whole and several SMUHSD students were recognized as Standout Leaders:
- San Mateo Union High School District: Climate Action Plan
- Youth Climate Ambassadors: Hillsdale High School Students and Meadow Heights Elementary School
- Youth Climate Ambassadors: BHS Students
- Youth Climate Ambassadors: HHS Waste and Consumption
May 2022: San Mateo County Office of Education Features SMUHSD and Bronze Level Green Ribbon RecognitionSMCOE's Environmental Literacy and Sustainability Initiative recently featured SMUHSD for receiving California Green Ribbon School Bronze Level Recognition.The California Green Ribbon award is given for school communities that have demonstrated progress towards reaching the goals of each of three Pillars, which are:
SMUHSD Sustainability Committee members who supported the Green Ribbon application and are sustainability leaders in the District were interviewed: student Maram Ahmed, Mills High School senior; Bethany Li, SMUHSD Sustainability Coordinator/Burlingame High School English teacher; Associate Superintendent/Chief Business Officer Yancy Hawkins; and Superintendent Dr. Kevin Skelly. Read some of their stories in the SMUHSD Green Ribbon Changemaker Interview article.
- Pillar I: Reduce environmental impact and costs
- Pillar II: Improve the health and wellness of schools, students, and staff
- Pillar III: Provide effective environmental education, which teaches many disciplines, and is especially good at effectively incorporating STEM, civic skills, and green career pathways
April 2022: SMUHSD Named a 2022 California Green Ribbon School District Sustainability Awardee
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond recently announced that 18 schools, two school districts, and one county office of education earned 2022 California Green Ribbon Schools awards. San Mateo Union High School District was named a 2022 California Green Ribbon School District Sustainability Awardee.
The U.S. Department of Education's Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) recognition award honors schools, school districts, and Institutes of Higher Education for excellence in resource efficiency, health and wellness, and environmental and sustainability education. The recognition award is part of a larger U.S. Department of Education (ED) effort to identify and communicate practices that result in improved student engagement, academic achievement, graduation rates, and workforce preparedness; and reinforces federal efforts to increase energy independence and economic security.
Read the California Department of Education press release.
Visit the California Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools Award Program web page to learn more.
January 2022: North Central Bike Lane Project
The Sustainability Committee of the San Mateo Unified High School District (SMUHSD) recommends that the City of San Mateo approve and implement the North Central Bike Lane Project.
November 2021: San Mateo County Youth Commissioners Recognized for Climate Action
The Environmental Justice Subcommittee of the San Mateo County Youth Commission were recently honored with a 2021 Green California Schools Leadership Award for its role in catalyzing a movement in San Mateo County for youth-led climate emergency declarations. Mills High School student Maram Ahmed is vice chair of the San Mateo Youth Commission and the Chair of the Environmental Justice Subcommittee. Additional current and former students involved with this subcommittee include San Mateo High School student Alina Shah and graduates Lilian Chang and Atiya Shah.
The subcommittee assisted three school districts — San Mateo Union High School District, Cabrillo Unified School District, and Sequoia Union High School District — in passing climate emergency declarations which help them make strides toward improved sustainability and resiliency in their facilities and operations.
August 2021: Hillsdale High School Secures Safe Routes to School GrantThe San Mateo County Office of Education, the City/County Association of Governments (C/CAG) of San Mateo and the Safe Routes to School Program recently announced that Hillsdale High School received a Safe Routes to School grant to be used during the 2021-2022 school year.The mission of San Mateo County Safe Routes to School is to encourage and enable school children to walk and bicycle to school by implementing projects and activities that improve the health, well-being, and safety of children. This would also result in less traffic congestion and emissions caused by school-related travel.Hillsdale High School Teacher and Sustainability Coordinator Dave Emanuel submitted the grant application which included the Hillsdale Bike Project - a program to promote bike ridership across the entire school and community.Components of the project include:
- Bike Repair and Share: Take donated bikes, repair them and distribute to students/families who are financially insecure
- The bike mechanic is a recent HHS grad who will share his bike mechanical skills with HHS students participating in the program
- A series of Community Bike days (one in the fall, two in the spring) where local families can bring their bikes to HHS on a Saturday morning for minor repairs and fun, kid-oriented bike activities
- A Pilot Program including about 1/3 of the Senior Class where they develop a series of Safe Commuting Guidelines (including bike and bus route maps) and encourage seniors to do a green commute every Friday.
- Bike Sustainability Project: A group of HHS Seniors will survey students about green commuting, analyze the San Mateo Bike Master Plan, and make a presentation about how to increase bike ridership/green commuting to a panel of educators, community members, and transportation planners from the City of San Mateo.
June 21, 2021: SMUHSD Recognized with SMCOE 2021 Sustainable and Climate Resilient Schools (SCRS) Challenge Award
The San Mateo County Office of Education recently announced in June 2021 that SMUHSD was one of 20 stand-out leaders who received a Sustainable and Climate Resilient Schools (SCRS) Challenge award for innovative sustainability efforts during the 2020-21 school year. In 2020-21, SMUHSD took action to build community and collaboration on sustainability issues, ensuring that all schools incrementally incorporate the environment into the whole school (campus, curriculum, community, and culture).
This year's actions build upon the district-wide action on zero waste led by Mills High School student Lilian Chang and Independent Studies Teacher Aiko Michot. Together with Superintendent Dr. Skelly, and many other green champions, the district launched a Sustainability Committee. This committee has several outcomes this year:
- Successful advocacy campaign and unanimous passage of SMUHSD Declaration of Climate Emergency by SMUHSD Board of Trustees. The resolution addresses green buildings, operations and transportation, food service, climate literacy, waste management, and goals for net-zero. This campaign was led by SMUHSD students (also Youth Commissioners): Atiya Shah, Maram Ahmed, and Lillian Chang.
- Implementation of a district-wide model for sustainability leadership to support communication and bridging the divide between student action items and district priorities. This included the identification of a District Sustainability Coordinator and the hiring of Site Sustainability Facilitators at each school.
- SMUHSD partnered with San Mateo County Office of Education's Environmental Literacy and Sustainability Initiative to complete a comprehensive Sustainable and Climate Resilient (SCRS) Baseline Assessment. This process involved synthesizing the current status of sustainability efforts in campus, curriculum, and community engagement at all school sites. This assessment has helped build a common language for sustainability efforts, and is a launching point for further strategic planning efforts.
Learn more about SMUHSD's efforts.
April 1, 2021: Declaration of Climate Emergency
What does this mean: As per the resolution, the District will create a climate action plan tackling areas including:
- Green Buildings
- Transportation, and
- Clean Energy
This creates a myriad of opportunities to drive sustainable change and keep SMUHSD accountable for its actions. Our District will serve as an example for others across the county and state!
In the News
Meet the Students Who Got San Mateo County High Schools to Declare a Climate Emergency
"Atiya Shah, a senior at San Mateo High School and chair of the youth commission's Environmental Justice Committee, lives in City of Foster City, where residents in 2018 voted to tax themselves in order to reengineer an eight-mile earthen wall, the only thing standing between them and San Francisco Bay.
Shah says she was motivated by the threat. “This is how climate change is showing up in my life. Time is of the essence," she said. "If we don't take action now, things are moving at such a fast rate that it's really going to affect our future. And people don't recognize that.”
Sustainability Assessment Report
In January 2021, SMUHSD partnered with the SMCOE’s Environmental Literacy and Sustainability Initiative (ELSI) to conduct a comprehensive baseline assessment of the district's existing efforts to become an environmentally sustainable institution. The intention of this assessment is to provide a synthesis of the current status of efforts to date and build a shared understanding and common language for these efforts. Furthermore, it is recommended that SMUHSD stakeholders use this baseline assessment as the foundation for a comprehensive strategic planning process.