Read Jeff Rivero’s story about his program from Merced Union High School District, Green That School (GTS), that supports young girls in Nanyuki, Kenya, by addressing sustainability issues that their community is facing, including unreliable energy, unsafe drinking water, and challenges related to facilities management.
Jeff Rivero is a US history and digital media teacher at Yosemite High School in Merced, California. He has integrated environmental and social equity education into a curriculum that requires civic engagement to advocate for policy changes, behavioral and procedural modifications, and equity in social, economic, and environmental issues. He was selected as a United Nations Ambassador for the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals in 2019 and advised students to lead an after-school program called the Junior Ambassadors (JA).
Students earn extra credit for attending an after-school JA lab class that uses science, technology, engineering, and math. They also focus on research and address issues such as women's empowerment in the US and Africa, energy use, forest sustainability, climate change, pollution, wastewater treatment, and mental health. Past projects include Tag Not Bags, which supplied suitcases for foster youth; Forest Sustainability: Problems and Solutions, a documentary on saving the redwoods; and a campus policy to conserve water with a reduction of 40 percent during drought years. Additionally, his students extensively researched plastic bags made from protein (which begins breaking down in landfills within three weeks) instead of petroleum and advocated for drought-resistant landscaping on the school campus.
Rivero's innovative approach to integrating the seventeen SDGs, career technical guidance, history content standards for California, and environmental studies into the high school classroom has led to several awards, including the Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Education in 2016, the 2022 US Green Building Council’s K–12 Educator Award, and Green Technology’s Green California School’s Leadership Award. Take Action Global, a nonprofit organization that focuses on curbing climate change, selected Rivero’s class as one of the top 250 classes in the world for its School of Excellence awards. England's Prince William addressed the schools virtually to recognize their work. Similarly, Quacquarelli-Symonds selected the JA’s Green That School project from a pool of twelve hundred universities and colleges worldwide. The Green That School project earned its students the honor of being shortlisted among the top ten sustainability projects in the world. In 2015, Rivero received Atwater’s Key to the City for his advocacy in support of senior citizen and veteran services, energy conservation and renewable energy production, and recreational activities for youth.
Rivero and his Junior Ambassador students are leading the way to refocus and restart students' college and career passions since the pandemic. College and Career Readiness Mentorship Month offers students the opportunity to meet leading professionals from various job sectors that offer advice, experiences, and encouragement to interested students.