Charlotte Biren and Jenna Perelman have been thinking about the natural environment and preparing to be environmental stewards since their elementary school days. They shine with confidence in their understanding of what needs to be done to create environmental sustainability and their commitment to get the job done right.
Biren and Perelman, seniors at Santa Monica High School (SaMoHi), are co-presidents of the SaMoHi Solar Alliance (SSA) and organizers of the 2010 and 2011 Bike It! Days.
SSA started in 2004 with the idea that putting solar panels on Drake pool would be good for the environment and save almost $30,000 per year for the school district. The student members of SSA got to work, got help from parents and PTAs and community members, raised money and brought solar heat to Drake pool. Now the big project for SSA is Bike It! Day.
Bike It! Day gives students a way to help reduce Santa Monica’s carbon footprint. On Bike It! Day students of the Santa Monica-Malibu School District bike, walk, skateboard, or take the bus to school.
“When kids participate in Bike It! Day they realize it’s easy and many kids start biking regularly. Now more than 120 students bike to SaMoHi and we need more bike racks for daily use,” Perelman said.
“We get huge support from the other students at SaMoHi,” Biren said. Listening to Biren and Perelman, it seems their fellow high school students have also learned they need to be stewards of the environment and are preparing themselves to do just that.
The first Bike It! Day, four years ago, had fewer than 100 participants, all at the high school. On the June 1, 2011 Bike It! Day, 3,300 students participated, and 700 of the participants biked to school. The event was district wide and included students from SaMoHi, Lincoln Middle School, John Adams Middle School, Santa Monica Alternative School, Edison, Franklin, Grant, McKinley, Muir, Pt. Dume, Rogers, Roosevelt and Juan Cabrillo.
“The event has proved to be extremely beneficial to our community, bringing together all the schools, parents, students, administration, and local businesses in an effort to combat global warming, one bike at a time,” said Richard McKinnon, a parent of a SaMoHi student, an avid cyclist, and chair of Bike It! Day.
“Bike It! Day has really become a citywide event, with the city helping out by putting up road arrangements and signs, and providing staff to control traffic. The Santa Monica Police Department will be out — both on cars on bikes — to keep students safe,” said McKinnon.
Both Biren and Perelman went all the way through the Santa Monica School system. They give credit for developing their interest in environmental protection to their elementary school and junior high school teachers who took them to the beach. By the time they got to junior high they were taking school trips to Catalina and Yosemite to learn about ecosystems. They measured trash on the beach, counted bird populations, and learned to gather the facts and make decisions based on science.
“I’ve studied ballet since I was five and I love dance,” said Biren, in thinking about her future. I play the viola in the SaMoHi orchestra and I teach viola and I’ve tutored at the SM Library since I was in 6th grade. I want to continue with these activities all my life. But I am also in love with the natural sciences. I am a science-oriented person. This summer I will be a volunteer intern at UCLA in a molecular biology and chemistry lab.
“I follow the work of scientists such as Shai Agassi who is using science and business power to achieve greatness in future alternative energy. I went to hear Robert Kennedy Jr. speak about mining in the southern part of the U.S. and what that has done to the environment, the economy and people’s lives. It makes me even more determined to use science to do good things.”
Perelman, who wears vintage clothes because “it’s better for the environment and I love them,” said, “I started biking to school in the 8th grade on the days I didn’t have to lug my alto sax with me. Now I bike almost every day. Perelman volunteers with the Jewish Big Sisters and has a ‘little sister’ she mentors. This summer she will be a counselor in training at the Jameson Ranch Camp for part of the summer and an intern in a photography studio for the other part. She plans on a gap year between high school and college and hopes to travel to Machu Picchu before going to college where she will study environmental law.
Perelman thinks about going into politics. “I love talking to people and I love public speaking, but then again, I’m 16 and I don’t know what’s going to happen, so things could change.”
Now in a place of honor in their respective homes are the President’s Environmental Youth Awards, which they received this June for their leadership in SSA. The awards are for “outstanding achievement in environmental stewardship,” and are signed by President Barack Obama.
I worry about water quality, air quality, our carbon footprint, global warming, sustainable cities, and sustainable agriculture. I worry that world governments are chasing the arguments of the last century instead of protecting our collective future. I worry that many countries are depriving themselves of the possible contributions to society of half their populations by denying women the right to participate fully in public life.
But after meeting Biren and Perelman, I worry less.
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