Claremont education rooted in the environment

by Ron Mittino

The vision of Sustainable Claremont’s Schools Action Group is to create and support high-quality, hands-on learning experiences for our children built on a foundation of environmental literacy, through partnerships between the Claremont Unified School District, the city of Claremont, the Claremont Colleges, Cal Poly Pomona and other centers of learning.

We are very fortunate to be able to welcome Dr. Gerald Lieberman and Juanita A. Chan-Caffee to present a sustainability dialog on April 17 in support of that vision. Dr. Lieberman is the director of the State Environmental Education Roundtable, SEER, which is a key group advising the Department of Education and the California State Legislature on implementing science standards and environmental literacy throughout California. Ms. Chan is an instructional strategist in science and math and a lead consultant with Dr. Lieberman.

Dr. Lieberman’s dialog is titled “Planting Seeds of Hope: Education Rooted in the Environment,” and coincides with the theme of this year’s Claremont Earth Day celebration, “Seeds of Hope.” It is clear that Claremont’s children are our own “Seeds of Hope.”

The key component of SEER’s program advocates connecting community and school resources outside the classroom to give students in-depth and project-based learning experiences to help them become environmentally literate.

A history of partnerships

Dr. Lieberman might well have come to Claremont to document examples of SEER’s concepts in action, as Claremont schools have a long history of district support for outdoor and project-based learning. From Oakmont’s designation as an “outdoor school” to school gardens at Chaparral, Mountain View, El Roble, CHS, Sycamore, Vista and Sumner and with many teachers teaching outside, Claremont clearly reflects SEER’s program. 

Pomona College students have taken our children in small groups to experience the plants, animals and structures of the Pomona Farm, while CMC freshmen have weeded Vista’s garden as part of their community orientation program. Cal Poly students and master gardener community volunteers have taught our children as well in and about the outdoors.

A classic example of partnership here in Claremont is the Oakmont Biome Project, a campus feature centered around plant zones, conceived and carried out by Pitzer students aided by volunteers and funds from Sustainable Claremont and District support, plus donations of design and materials by local business and plants from Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden.  And a great deal of lawn was removed and replaced with native plants!

Another is the “Plant Justice” program at San Antonio High School, which is a garden and academic program for SAHS students mentored by Pitzer and Scripps students with guidance from Scripps Professor Nancy-Neiman Auerbach. Their end of the year gourmet banquet fundraiser featuring produce from their garden is not to be missed.

These achievements are the result of the district’s commitment to partnerships, outdoor education and “greening” our schools. The hiring of a garden coordinator, installing solar panels, reducing energy use and other sustainable actions. Claremont has a great tradition on which to build, and we believe Dr. Lieberman can help direct us to new levels of achievement.

More than islands of excellence

Dr. Lieberman’s vision complements a previous dialog presentation by Lynne Juarez, retired elementary school administrator from San Francisco. Ms. Juarez shared her experience of converting the asphalt pavement of her school playground to a thriving, vibrant ecosystem which became integral to her school’s academic offerings. Claremont’s school gardens, orchards, mini-biomes and rich community resources serve a similar function locally, but these experiences and environmental education can be expanded to include all schools and all students.

Together, their presentations raise questions and suggest answers to important questions for our community. 

In Ms. Juarez’s words:

“What resources would be needed to put the environment at the center of educational experiences district-wide? Could we create opportunities to support children and teachers in developing a sense of place here in Claremont? 

Can we help develop reverence for all life in our children through direct interactions with nature? Can hands-on experiences help our children learn about the cycles of life, the miracles of spring, the beauty of the natural world and our place in it, not as overseers but as active participants? Can we, as a community, support our children, our teachers and our schools as we strive to educate young people to become wise, caring adults? Are there resources, readily available, but as yet untapped in this community to assist us?

These topics and countless others are worthy of inquiry at every level of the educational process…from preschool through adulthood. Answers to these questions can provide an excellent base for our children to become environmentally literate. The possibilities for learning are endless!  

Wendell Berry, an American poet and champion of the environment, put it this way, ‘Our children no longer know how to read the great book of nature from their own direct experience or how to interact creatively with the seasonal transformation of the planet. They seldom learn where their water comes from or where it goes. We no longer coordinate our human celebrations with the great liturgy of the heavens.’” 


If these ideas and challenges capture your imagination, join in the dialogue on April 17 at 7 p.m. in Hahn Hall 101, 420 N. Harvard Ave. Together, we can make a difference!


Demystifying Sustainability is a project of Sustainable Claremont ( Follow them on Facebook at and on Twitter @GreenClaremont, and consider becoming a member.





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