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Third-graders, from left to right, Elena Olszak, Julia Morrow and Ellie Clark talk about the importance of bees at Ocean Knoll’s pollination garden. EUSD (Encinitas Union School District) was recently selected by the California Department of Education to compete in the national Green Ribbon Schools Award program. Photo by Jared Whitlock
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EUSD recognized for green initiatives

ENCINITAS — At Ocean Knoll Elementary, plenty is in bloom, from a school farm to a pollination garden.

Other green initiatives, including solar infrastructure and a lunchtime recycling program, can be found throughout the school and the rest of EUSD (Encinitas Union School District.)

It’s why the California Department of Education recently selected the district as its 2014 nominee for the Green Ribbon Schools Award program. The national competition honors educational leaders for reducing environmental impacts, improving student wellness and incorporating educational lessons into green programs.

“We’re being green, but also promoting science and important educational lessons,” said EUSD Superintendent Tim Baird during a tour last week of Ocean Knoll Elementary with district and state education officials.

The tour began at the Ocean Knoll Farm, where debris once covered the one-acre property. But thanks to neighbors, parents and district officials, the land is now home to planter boxes, fruit trees and a greenhouse.

“These projects have pulled in the community and gotten them volunteering — and that’s the beauty of it,” said Angelica Lopez, EUSD assistant superintendent of administrative services.

At Sage Garden, another stop on the walkthrough, third-graders were busy maintaining planters full of lettuce. On a regular basis, students take harvested produce from the garden to a nutritional sciences lab. There, they receive hands-on cooking lessons.

From garden to table, they get a complete picture of the food production cycle, officials stated. Relatedly, produce grown at Ocean Knoll is served at a school salad bar.

Students noted that leftovers during lunchtime are sorted into a SCRAP (separate, compost, reduce and protect) cart by fruits and vegetables, citrus, aluminum cans, mixed recycling and landfill waste. The system cut down on landfill waste by more than 85 percent and eliminated the need for some dumpsters, according to district officials.

The one-acre Ocean Knoll farm provides produce to the district’s nine schools. Photo by Jared Whitlock

Elsewhere on campus, third-graders Elena Olszak, Julia Morrow and Ellie Clark presented an overview of yet another campus plot— a pollination garden for bees and butterflies.

They explained that bees are critical to agriculture. But due to a combination of pesticides and disease, the bee population is plummeting, leading to the pollination garden.

And other district green initiatives were highlighted during the tour.

A first-of-its-kind program has students gathering stormwater samples. Based on the results, they’ll put together runoff management plans, with the aim of keeping pollutants out of waterways. The program launched at El Camino Creek and La Costa Heights this fall, and EUSD is eyeing a district-wide rollout.

Plus, EUSD officials noted the district installed solar tubes — devices that concentrate sunlight to provide overhead lighting — throughout district classrooms. The goal: cut down on energy use by 30 percent.

Additionally, looking to the future, EUSD is developing a 10-acre farm on Quail Gardens Drive. The plot will host a community farm and one-acre satellite campus for the district. Work began on the school portion this fall, and crops will be planted on the community portion in the coming months.

“We were honored to see the district’s environmental education, initiatives and programs recognized at the state level,” said Mim Michelove, co-founder of Healthy Day Partners, a group that has worked on some of the district’s green programs.

“It truly took a village of administrators, school board members, support staff, teachers and especially students to bring these projects to life,” Michelove added.

Winners of the national Green Ribbon Schools Award program will be announced in July.