“There are a lot of different ways that we can educate others about sustainable farming and helping support local businesses, especially ones that strive to help the environment and pollute the planet less.”
— Itzel Sanchez, 11th Grade, Half Moon Bay High School, San Mateo County
These words of reflection came after Itzel experienced a “Green Careers” school field trip last May. Over the course of the day, Itzel and 91 other students from two San Mateo County high schools visited several local businesses that exemplify environmental sustainability and innovation. These South San Francisco Unified School District and Cabrillo Unified School District students spent the day learning about sustainable fishing, restaurant operations, dairy operations, aquaponics, organic soil farming, and beekeeping. They tasted fresh, organic foods, got a firsthand view of what it is like to run a sustainable business through presentations from each location’s owner, and learned what it is like to work within each business from the employees who guided them through the sites. Students not only experienced the real workflow at each site, but they also learned about how each business employs practices that support sustainability in their daily operations, such as reducing waste, using process outputs as inputs, embracing biodiversity, buying locally grown grain feed, supporting microbial ecosystems, utilizing natural pest controls, and regenerating carbon in the soil.
When surveyed after the trip, over half of the students reported that they either “would” (30 percent) or “might” (22 percent) pursue a career related to the industry sectors that they experienced. In other words, after just one exposure to local, environmentally sustainable businesses, over 50 percent of participating students were not only thinking about their post-secondary journeys, they are considering the pursuit of a green career. We should consider that a huge win for career education and for the planet! Watch this video to learn more about the “Green Careers” field trip, to listen to the students’ reactions to their experiences learning about green careers, and to the teachers’ and district coordinators’ reflections on how the trip complemented their Career Technical Education (CTE) pathway programs.
Sustainable Future Outdoor Academy (SFOA), who designed and facilitated the field trip, and the San Mateo County Office of Education’s (SMCOE) College and Career Readiness team, who helped envision and coordinate the trip, know how important it is to introduce students to local, sustainability-focused, nature-oriented, well-paying careers at a time when humanity needs to rapidly shift its behaviors and practices to support a “green” economy. This wide-scale economic transformation requires a workforce that is well trained in the skills and frameworks required for sustainable development, and that is excited and motivated to work in industries that are rapidly developing and expanding sustainable frameworks to prevent the further degradation of the environment. As long as we, educators, understand the imperative to develop a “green workforce” and are ourselves motivated to guide our students toward that goal, our current TK–12 students will become members of that workforce. Field trips like these not only directly connect students with members of their community who are actively working in sustainable industries, but they also support the notion that students can live and work within the same community that helped raise them, and that they can play an active role in realizing the solutions that are needed to bring our communities forward into this new, more sustainable world. We believe that this mindset will benefit the students, their families, and their communities in the short and long terms.
For its pilot run, SFOA designed this field trip for high school CTE students enrolled in the Agriscience and Culinary pathways, so the theme of this trip focused on sustainable food systems. These students were exposed to a variety of local, sustainable food producers, thereby creating a connection between the food on their plates and where the food actually comes from, and, importantly, why it matters that food is produced sustainably. We believe that there is no better way to create this connection in a salient, meaningful, and lasting way than for students to experience it firsthand out in the real world, in addition to learning about it during classroom instruction. Future SFOA trips will focus on other industry sectors to complement additional CTE and STEM educational pathways, which are crucial to our sustainable future, such as renewable energy and energy storage, green building and construction, and electric vehicles and transportation. These trips’ scope will also expand to other students, such as those enrolled in high school CTE Engineering and Architecture, Building and Construction, and Transportation pathways, as well as for students enrolled in Advanced Placement (AP) Environmental Science, AP Biology, and AP Physics courses. The plan is to also expand to middle schools, such as for those that are implementing the SMCOE Green Career Awareness and Exploration program. The ever-growing need for workers in green careers, jobs, and trades across these vital industries is only going to continue into the future. It is incumbent upon us to bring awareness to the future workforce that local, sustainable businesses and rewarding, society-positive careers are available to them within these industries.
SFOA has been designing and piloting sustainability programs for middle and high school students since 2018. Their connections with local businesses made possible the interactive and impactful career exploration experiences that demonstrate how sustainability actually works in the real world. Through our partnership, we plan to offer the Sustainable Food Systems field trip to high school CTE students again in the coming school year, and we are currently working collaboratively to develop a “Sustainable Energy” field trip to pilot with schools in 2023. At SMCOE, we are committed to the philosophy that every child, every year, should attend a field trip at one of San Mateo County’s many community- or industry-based partners, and this partnership between SFOA and our county office and school districts helps us move one step closer to that vision.