Our Youth and Our Planet—Q&A With Berkeley High’s Green Academy

Hello Readers! My Name is Toni White. I came to Home Energy magazine a little over a year ago as an office assistant intern. My home city is Berkeley, California (which is also where HE Mag is located). Berkeley is a small city that neighbors San Francisco and Oakland, and has a population of about 112,000. I call Berkeley the “Hippie City” as it’s very open-minded, liberal, has a mixture of different people, and a sense of calm. We are also home to one of the best schools, the University of California, Berkeley, and one public high school, which yours truly attended, Berkeley High.

I used the city’s local youth program to find a part-time job, and sure enough it lead me to Home Energy in 2011. The magazine’s publisher, Tom White asked me if I would be interested in doing an article; of course I accepted. We talked about youth and energy, which lead me back to my old high school—a school that has recently developed its very own Green Academy.

I had the chance to speak with one of Berkeley High School’s Green Academy co-leaders and science teacher Glenn Wolkenfeld. He has been involved with Green Academy ever since it first began and helped move it forward to what it is today.

Q&A With Glenn Wolkenfeld, Green Academy

Toni White: How did the Green Academy come to be and why?

Glenn Wolkenfeld: Berkeley High School’s Green Academy came to be 2 years ago, in Fall 2010. The BHS Green Academy is one of six small schools program we have within the school. The Green Academy was sponsored by PG&E who partnered with the California Department of Education. PG&E helped with the curriculum and also provided funds for the program. PG&E wanted to fund money to a whole new small school, not give it to one already existing. Berkeley High’s Green Academy also took over a small school, the school for Social Justice and Ecology (SSJE), because the curriculum was the same as the Sustainability, Ecology, and Environmental Design (SEED) program.

TW: What does the Green Academy do?

GW: It prepares students for college and green-based jobs. The Academy provides education in environmental science, sustainability, English, history and math. In 9th grade, students learn the foundation of environmental sustainability and social justice. They take advanced biology, geometry, English and history. In 10th grade they are working on the career path they might want to take. There are two programs they can choose from:  SEED (Sustainability, Ecology, and Environmental Design), which deals with renewable energy, green building, waste management, and transportation, and HEAT (Human Energy and Appropriate Technology), which deals with the physics of energy, including the study of energy conservation, electricity, and solar energy. In their 12th grade year, students have related internships in the community.

TW: Who can be a part of the Green Academy? Are there certain requirements to get into the program?

GW: Anyone who has an interest in the ecology and the green movement, goes to Berkeley High or wants to go to Berkeley High, and is ready to start their 9th grade year can be apart of the academy. 

TW: What’s a typical class size and what topics are covered within classes?

GW: BHS Green Academy will have anywhere from 290 students to 400 students, and the typical class size is just like any other—28 to 30 kids. In the classes, students learn English, history, science, and math. They do homework and get reading and writing assignments as well.

TW: Do classes have discussions and lectures or is it more hands-on?

GW: There are project-based classes. In the past some of the projects included testing hydrogen fuel cells and evaluating the hydrogen economy, designing small-scale wind and solar generators, and restoring wetlands. Students learn about climate change, and the history about international agreements on climate change. Much of the learning is hands-on and includes field trips. The classes still include discussions and lectures but we like it to be more hands-on.

TW: After a student graduates from the Green Academy, where do they go? What opportunities are available for them?

GW: Green Academy hopes to help students get jobs in sustainability.  BHS is trying to basically do the articulation agreement. For those who don’t know, the articulation agreement is what makes specific courses and letter grades completed in community college transferable to a university. The courses taught at the high school would be worth college credit. We want them to have the knowledge and experience they need to move forward in college or with a green-based job. Seniors have internship experience, so they can use that to move on to a job as well.

TW: Do you think that “green” programs will continue to gain momentum and popularity over the next 5 years?

GW: Yes, if we cannot become more eco-friendly, there will be no future. Every year our class size joining the BHS Green Academy gets bigger, so I think people, even youth, understand how important it is for us to change.

TW: Do you see a large interest with students/youth that you work with to better the environment?

GW: Yes, all the kids entering the program seem very eager to learn, complete the projects, and get out there and work with the community. We need to get the youth on the right track to help our environment. They know the future is at stake, and they know that we can do better.

TW: These types of youth programs, for the future of our environment, are relatively new. As a program administrator, how have you seen the response to the program change?

GW: These programs are still in the building blocks, especially in high school. BHS Green Academy is only 2 years old. The youth is what will build our future, so we leave it up to them to help make the changes we need to help our environment. We need them to understand and actively engage in creating an environmentally sustainable world.

Final Thoughts

When I was going to Berkeley High School, there was no Green Academy. There may have been a small school with some of the same ideas, but nothing like the Green Academy. I didn’t have any real knowledge about sustainable energy, green jobs, or just how to live and be more energy efficient.

Even though environmental issues are becoming more and more emphasized in the government and politics, it’s important that we move forward on our own and make the changes. It is great to see how Berkeley High and our city are growing and accepting environmental sustainability into its community and education. I myself have learned a lot while working at Home Energy and I’m grateful for that. I hope that in the future we learn more ways to help our environment, and ourselves, and live within our means. I think building a Green Academy inside a high school is a great step in the right direction.

- Toni White

This blog originally appeared on HomeEnergy.org.

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