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California High School Has Environmental Focus

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Mike O'Sullivan

American charter schools are public schools that are run by private educational enterprises, under special rules, or charters,  from state or local school boards.  Many charter schools have specialized areas of study such as science, mass media, or the arts.  A charter school near Los Angeles teaches the importance of protecting the environment.

The Environmental Charter High School, in Lawndale, California, teaches all standard academic subjects.

As well as studies about the environment.  Nearly 500 students are enrolled at the high school, where they prepare for college.

They also get something extra, says school founder Alison Suffet Diaz.

“Once they are here, they are immersed in a curriculum that gets them to look at critical issues in their local communities, and be inspired that they can actually make a difference in their local community and be the change that they want to see in the world," said Alison Suffet Diaz.

The teens can get close to nature, and explore topics like alternative energy, in this case, a pump powered by human energy to water the plants.

Student Rigo Estrada says he was the kind of person who threw trash on the street before he came here.

“Someone tells me, 'Do not do that.'   I would be [saying], 'What are you talking about?  It does not matter.'  But now that I have seen firsthand videos, I have done beach cleanups, I have helped develop water-catchment systems, I have taught [students at] elementary schools the importance of water conservation.  I know the importance of green and that it actually is a really serious topic," said Rigo Estrada .
The school also teaches creative arts, integrated in one case with a lesson in physics.

The school brings in outside experts, including Nancy Gale, who owns an environmentally-friendly business that makes handbags.

“We teach the kids business, marketing, sales, design, and we want to take these students, let them see the entire process that actualizes an intangible product," said Nancy Gale. "The idea behind the program is that if these kids see what they can do together and what they can accomplish, that they recognize that their skills extend into the same real world as kids that go to successful private schools.”

Students learn how to prepare a business plan, says teacher Brandie Cobb.

“And when they leave me, the goal is for them to have a business plan in their hands that they can start and use in order to help pay for college," said Brandie Cobb.

The curriculum stresses cooperation and community action, and helps students learn to get things done, says 18-year-old Rodrigo Padilla.

“And if we all work together and if we all take initiative, and if we are able to inform people to do what they need to do, then we can really make a change," said Rodrigo Padilla.

Whether they pursue careers related to their studies here or not, the sense of empowerment these teens have learned is what the Environmental Charter High School was designed to do.   

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