Wolves and Water in Walnut

Eco-Schools USA Helps Students Green California’s Suzanne Middle School

11-10-2010 // Amanda Cooke
Denali wolf

Whether by recycling reading glasses, sponsoring a wolf, or promoting drought tolerant landscaping, the students of Suzanne Middle School (SMS) are creatively making a difference in their Southern California community.

SMS is located in the Los Angeles suburb of Walnut and is a member of Eco-Schools USA, an international program hosted in the United States by the National Wildlife Federation.  This green schools program provides a free framework for students and teachers who want to implement cost- and energy-saving projects at their school.

SMS social studies teacher Alan Haskvitz is one of several teachers at the middle school who want to show that the Eco-Schools program helps engage students in hands-on, cost-saving projects that cut carbon emissions, green school grounds, and connect students to the community. 

“A lot of schools, if they just look around, will see so many ways to save both energy and money. We’ve saved $5,000 alone this school year on electric costs thanks to the efforts of the staff and the principal, Les Ojeda. If other schools want to emulate this, it’s really not hard to do,” said Haskvitz, a National Hall of Fame educator and 25-year veteran of the distinguished California school. 

Reducing Energy Consumption at School

The school reduced energy consumption by 15 percent this year, achieved by shutting off lights, using in-house developed computer shutdown software, closing doors to conserve hot or cool air, and shutting down the school’s air conditioning and heating 15 minutes after the school day ends.

Another positive force for the 1,500 students at the school is the popular Conservation Club which is in its fifth year of service to the school and the community. The teacher-advisors to the club include Steve Cusson, Jennifer Carr, E.J. Gautreau, and Ramona Talampas. 

The club has 90 members from the 6th, 7th, and 8th grades who volunteer their time once a week in the school-wide recycling program.  Paper collection containers are in every classroom and bins for bottles and cans are placed throughout the school.  The students collect and sort the recyclables and the advisers transport the waste to recycling facilities.  A classroom recycling competition is held each year to bring awareness to the program.

Each year, Conservation Club members do a variety of community projects including local park clean-up and restoration of native plants, beach clean-up, and removal of non-native plants at the Santa Fe Dam conservation area.  The funds are used to defray the costs of wildlife speakers, assemblies, and transportation needs.

Making a Difference in the Walnut Community

As well as beverage containers, eyeglasses, and paper, the school works with the city of Walnut and its residents to recycle empty printing cartridges and have developed an innovative way to save on the amount of waste at the school by collecting the paper food trays used at lunch. This idea came from a student based on aspects of the Eco-Schools USA program.

The school uses some of the funds raised by recycling to sponsor a teenage wolf at Wolf Mountain Sanctuary in Lucerne Valley, located about an hour and a half northeast of Walnut. Apparently Denali, the school’s wolf (pictured above!), is hopelessly clumsy and the funds raised by students go directly to Denali’s “wolf lessons”, as Haskvitz calls them.  The school also has a Wolf 527 Wildlife Club, named in honor of the Yellowstone wolf that was killed last year despite wearing a radio collar.

School Garden
Suzanne Middle School Garden

The youth have also developed a demonstration school garden by way of a design contest, which helped integrate math, economics and geography into their lessons.  The Walnut Valley Water District chose the most sustainable design, and the students planted their garden with drought-tolerant, native vegetation.  The water district also helped put in a system that uses recycled water for irrigation and a drip system.

NWF's Eco-Schools USA, which operates in more than 40 countries, provides Suzanne Middle School and other registered schools a free, easy framework that supports student-led green schools projects. Check out this interactive map to see which schools are currently registered in your state, and follow the program on Twitter @ecoschoolsusa.

Related Resources
  • How to Become an Eco-School

    Through school-based action teams of students, administrators, educators and community volunteers, Eco-Schools combines effective "green" management of the school grounds, facilities and the curriculum.

  • The Eight Eco-Schools Pathways

    The Eco-Schools USA program is made up of seven steps, incorporating eight environmental pathways.

  • Current Eco-Schools  

    Check the map to see if your schools are Eco-Schools.