There’s a green revolution brewing at Santa Monica High School.
Conceived of and spearheaded entirely by two determined teens, the vision to turn Samohi into an energy efficient “green” school has blossomed into a body of 50 committed students, joined under The Samohi Solar Alliance. Their mission: To realize their goal of converting Samohi to a “three-tiered sustainable energy design” comprised of energy efficiency, solar technology, and environmentally responsible landscaping.
At first blush, the plan sounds daunting, involving a dizzying array of complex factors — financial plans, grant proposals, building and infrastructure codes, business sponsorships, and so on. Challenges enough to drive many a well-intentioned activist to take up less risky pursuits — knitting anyone? That is, until one meets the project’s founders Molly Strauss and Isabel Polon, two remarkable young visionaries blessed with tremendous passion and perseverance.
While sophomores at Samohi, the two joined a campus activist group that crumbled after key members graduated. Seeing a clear need to fill the ensuing void, Molly and Isabel began meeting regularly to discuss options. A summer of brainstorming lead to the idea for a campus clean energy campaign; a way to implement tangible, environmentally responsible results in their own backyard. And so began the Samohi Solar Alliance.
Wasting no time, the two formed a campus club in the fall of 2004, granting them immediate non-profit status under the school’s umbrella program. They developed a mission statement, designed a logo, and dove into their first major challenge: building up a committed membership base.
The grassroots are greener
After just a few months of aggressive outreach, the Samohi Solar Alliance grew to include 50 students, with a consistent base of 20 – 40 meeting regularly to strategize, outline next steps, and delegate responsibilities. Molly and Isabel attribute much of their impressive early success to a very personal, community oriented grassroots approach: flyering, talking individually to other students, meeting weekly, and generally spreading the word. And clearly, the desire to get involved in progressive activism resonated with their fellow student.
This, and a few strokes of pure, simple good luck along the way, such as linking up early on with John Ingersoll, an environmental consultant employed by the City of Santa Monica. Ingersoll has expertise in energy efficiency, green school design, and project management. He has been a key mentor for the two girls, helping them navigate the project’s more technical aspects, as well as lending them some “adult credibility.”
Once they had established a strong campus presence, the Alliance moved on to enlist support from the greater community, tabling at the farmers’ market, seeking sponsorships from local businesses, meeting with interested parents, and participating in larger campus-wide events. Building this sort of strong community support is one of their primary, ongoing goals. As Molly wisely notes, “It’s much harder to say no to an entire community than it is to a group of kids.”
And taking no for an answer is not an option these students are likely to accept.
Students rays the bar
The crux of the Alliance’s “three-tiered” sustainable energy program is to convert the science building and swimming pool to run on energy efficient systems – solar photovoltaic panels for electricity, and solar thermal panels for heat generation. In addition to the obvious financial benefits, i.e. long-term savings from reduced energy expenditures, the students’ plan to move Samohi towards becoming a “green” or “high performance” school could yield tremendous results down the line. Truly green schools, those designed, built, and/or retrofitted according to ecologically sound principles, can protect student and teacher health, improve academic performance, and provide a positive, hands-on model for teaching environmental responsibility.
All of which fits nicely within Santa Monica’s ethic of environmental awareness. Lauded as one of the most sustainability-oriented cities in the nation, our city actively promotes a number of green policies (see: www.santa-monica.org/epd/ ) and is also home to Global Green, the only national environmental organization headquartered in Los Angeles County. The organization’s “Green Schools Initiative” is at the helm of an ambitious long term strategy to promote green schools throughout Southern California. (Further details about Global Green in a future column.)
It takes a village
Though the students are off to a tremendous start, they face a long, difficult road ahead. And welcome all available community support. Their inspiring story offers all Santa Monica residents an opportunity to get involved in helping to turn our local public school into an energy efficient, ecological gem, and potentially a model for other schools. Anyone interested in helping can contact the Alliance directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org
In their words:
“We are particularly conscious of the dangers we face as a generation, and the importance of conserving our planet’s resources. We hope to demonstrate on a small level what a few concerned young people can do to change the world.” Amen.