With a new Sustainability Coordinator on board and children “returning to school” from Spring Break this week, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District is ready to kick off distance learning with a number of lessons related to Earth Day.

It’s been nearly five weeks since district leaders implemented the full closure of all schools and programs, including its child care, infant toddler center, preschool and adult school due to Covid-19. In the time since, many parents have struggled to keep their kids engaged in learning, but SMMUSD Sustainability Coordinator Austin Toyama said he has a few activities planned this week that will have students and parents alike excited to learn.

“I started about a month and a half ago so I’m relatively fresh into all of this, but I’ve come into it wanting to educate students as much as possible on ways they can implement sustainability at home and at school,” Toyama said. “Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to do as much of the on-campus engagement as I would have hoped but we’ve been using the downtime to figure out some things that will help us both in the short-term and future.”

While detailing the various projects he’s already undertaken, which he hopes to soon present to the district’s board of education, Toyama said he and district staff launched a contest this week for students that called on them to use pens, paints, crayons, markers, pencils or digital design to create a poster that reflects the theme “My Sustainable World: What does a healthy, sustainable world look like to you?”

A winning poster from grades third through fifth and transitional kindergarten through second will each be selected and announced on Earth Day.

“The winning artwork will be put up on our Twitter, Facebook and district web pages so they’ll be able to have some publicity as an incentive, but it’s also a good way for them to get back to thinking about some of the sustainability programs they were experiencing in their schools before I came on board,” Toyama said. “It’s a way to kind of refresh and get the idea of having to work into their heads again before we move into this week’s climate presentations.”

Prior to the pandemic, Toyama said he and the district had organized live presentations, but distance-learning schedules are different for every school so the scale of the Earth Day celebration has been tailored back a bit. Instead, the district has partnered with local parent and founder of ARC Sustainability Andrea Robinson.

“She’s a local speaker and she’s agreed to record one of her presentations about some of the basics of climate change and some of the most recent news and statistics about climate change. Then we’re going to make it accessible for students, families, and district members on YouTube,” Toyama said. “And we’re hoping to host a Q&A for kids who want to ask questions and get to know the bigger picture on whatever else they want to know more about.”

Toyama added he hoped to have the video posted and accessible to students this week.

“And I think we’ll have it up past the end of week,” he said. “There’s been a lot of parents involved with this and some have expressed how happy they are to have a sustainability coordinator back; I’m really excited to be here and I hope I can help make a difference in my time here.”


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