Holiday Spirit

Fourth-grade students at Mariano Castro Elementary School in Mountain View plot earthquakes that have occurred along the San Andreas Fault during a lesson led by the nonprofit Environmental Volunteers, a Holiday Fund grant recipient. Photo by Elena Kadvany.

Posted November 23, 2018

Nurturing the next generation of stewards
Environmental Volunteers teaches kids, adults to see a larger world

by Elena Kadvany

"Have you ever felt an earthquake?" asked Environmental Volunteers team coordinator Nancy Mayo of energetic fourth-graders sitting cross-legged Monday in a classroom at Castro Elementary School in Mountain View.

Several hands shot up in affirmation as students recalled the experience.

"It felt intense," one girl said. "I actually went under my bed."

Several other enthusiastic comments followed during a classroom lesson on earthquakes, the follow-up to a field trip the students recently took to learn about tectonic plates and quakes at Los Trancos Preserve near Los Altos Hills.

Both lesson and field trip were organized by Environmental Volunteers, a Palo Alto nonprofit that works to level the playing field for thousands of low-income elementary students each year — most of whom otherwise would only receive an hour of science instruction each week — by providing hands-on, interactive science education in local school districts, said Executive Director Elliott Wright.

The nonprofit received a $5,000 grant from the Palo Alto Weekly's Holiday Fund this year to support Environmental Volunteers' public education series — lectures, art exhibits, bird walks and other hands-on nature and science education opportunities for all ages.

Since 1972, Environmental Volunteers has worked to inspire in young students a passion for science and nature. The nonprofit was founded in Portola Valley by a group of women who called themselves the "Walkie Talkies," Wright said. The women went out for walks together and became increasingly concerned about the connection between protecting local nature and the lack of environmental education in schools. Gathered around a kitchen table, they developed a curriculum and then started taking students out to the Bay to explore and learn, Wright said.

Today, Environmental Volunteers is headquartered in the EcoCenter, a public nature center in the Baylands Nature Preserve, and works with 145 schools throughout the Bay Area, including in the Palo Alto Unified, Ravenswood City and Mountain View-Whisman school districts. More than 100 volunteers serve 10,000 students each year, according to the nonprofit. Environmental Volunteers also works with homeschooled students.

Greater than half of the nonprofit's programs were delivered to schools where 40 percent or more of students are enrolled in the free and reduced lunch program, and 43 percent were located at "extreme" low-income schools, where 70 percent or more of students are on the lunch program.

"They don't get access to the same science education nor the same access to field trips and natural sciences" as better-resourced students, Wright said.

Environmental Volunteers' lessons are aligned with California's Next Generation Science Standards for kindergarten through sixth grade. In 2011, the nonprofit launched a transportation fund to provide subsidies to enable low-income youth to go on science and environmental education field trips.

"There are so many Bay Area children who, despite their proximity to the Bay, redwood forests, oak woodlands and coastal trails, never get the opportunity," Wright wrote in a recent fundraising message.

He recalled a fifth-grader from East Palo Alto named Francisco who had seemed very stressed out, Wright said, until they arrived at the Fitzgerald Marine Preserve in Moss Beach on a field trip.

"We rounded the corner at this specific spot at Fitzgerald — you turn the corner and then can see the whole ocean. As we turned that corner and he looked out, I won't ever forget what he said. He said, 'I never knew the world was this big,'" Wright said.

The Castro Elementary School students who recently went on the trip to Los Trancos delved deeper into the world of earthquakes on Monday. The students were split up into small groups for activities, including testing structures they built from Play-Doh, toothpicks and straws on a shake table to understand how buildings can be damaged in earthquakes. Another group plotted real earthquakes of varying magnitudes on a large map of California, the color-coded pins eventually creating an image of the San Andreas Fault snaking down the state. With a third group, volunteer Drew Thompson demonstrated the impact of shifting tectonic plates using two pieces of paper and a pile of sand.

The students were noticeably energized by the hands-on activities and full of questions.

"That's what science does," Mayo told the group of students. "It makes us think about things and gives us more questions."

The earthquake curriculum is a mainstay of Environmental Volunteers but was recently overhauled to align with the state's new Next Generation Science Standards, Wright said. Another new program coming in 2019 is a biodiversity curriculum.

The nonprofit is also currently running a matching challenge grant to reach schools on Environmental Volunteers' waitlist.

Wright became Environmental Volunteers' executive director this spring, replacing longtime director Allan Berkowitz, but he's not new to the organization. He worked alongside the nonprofit in previous jobs at the Nature Conservancy, Palo Alto tree nonprofit Canopy and Sempervirens Fund in Los Altos, which works to preserve local redwood forests and parks.

The implications of his new role, however, feel particularly impactful in 2018, he said. The nonprofit estimates there are 130,000 additional children whom Environmental Volunteers could serve — thousands of unrealized future environmental stewards.

"What I've realized is that all of the conservancy wins that we have today are nothing without tomorrow's generation as advocates and supporters," Wright said, "because if we don't have the next generation with us, we'll see a rollback on every single win we've had."

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2019 Grant Recipients

49ers Academy
Academic and social support services for East Palo Alto students attending Menlo-Atherton High School$5,000

Able Works
Financial literacy education for high school students at East Palo Alto Academy, Oxford Day Academy and Menlo-Atherton High School$5,000

Ada's Café
Training and support of developmentally disabled employees and high school student interns$5,000

Adolescent Counseling Services
Outlet Program providing support services and counseling for LGBTQ+ youth$7,500

Aim High for High School
Summer academic program for East Palo Alto middle school students aimed at preparing them for a successful high school experience$5,000

All Students Matter
Expansion of literacy intervention program focused on 3rd-5th grade students in Ravenswood school district$15,000

Art in Action
Art education program serving more than 650 students in grades K-8 at three schools in the Ravenswood school district$5,000

Art of Yoga
Yoga, creative art and other mindfulness activities for more than 500 juvenile girls in the criminal justice system$5,000

Bayshore Christian Ministries
Academic "Create" summer camp providing STEAM-focused classes and activities for Ravenswood district middle school students$5,000

Big Brothers Big Sisters
Support for Match Support Specialists who oversee and coach the adult volunteers matched with children$5,000

Buena Vista Homework Club
Homework center for elementary and middle school aged youth living at the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park$10,000

CASSY
School-based free mental health services to students and families in five Ravenswood elementary and middle schools$10,000

Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto
Legal assistance to East Palo Alto residents facing eviction and other rental housing problems and conflicts$10,000

Downtown Streets Team
Funding for a Case Management Flex Fund to help team members pay for fees and other expenses that are necessary to pursue housing, employment and other opportunities$7,500

DreamCatchers
General support for after-school tutoring program serving low-income Palo Alto middle school students$20,000

East Palo Alto Academy Foundation
Peer leadership program to develop mentors and motivate high school students to participate in STEM-focused "Dream Lab"$7,500

East Palo Alto Charter School (EPACS)
Science program at K-5 elementary charter school$7,500

East Palo Alto Kids Foundation
Educator Micro Grants Program, providing $600 grants to Ravenswood school district teachers for classroom supplies and field trips$10,000

East Palo Alto Tennis & Tutoring
Development of math tutoring curriculum for underperforming 1st to 8th graders$10,000

Environmental Volunteers
Monthly public environmental education programs for youth and adults$5,000

Family Connections
Early childhood education program supporting parents of preschoolers through 3rd grade in East Palo Alto and east Menlo Park.$5,000

Fit Kids Foundation
Physical activity program for children 4-13 in East Palo Alto$5,000

Foundation for a College Education
College Knowledge middle and high school program designed to prepare students and their families to pursue a college education$7,500

Friends of Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo
Science Outreach Program providing hands on science instruction in Ravenswood school district$5,000

Get Involved Palo Alto
Service-learning internship placement program for high school students wanting to work with low-income youth$5,000

Hidden Villa
Summer camp scholarships$5,000

Jasper Ridge Farm
Farm animal visits to Ronald McDonald House$5,000

Kara
Spanish language grief support program$7,500

KIPP Valiant Community Prep
Mental health counseling services at public charter school in East Palo Alto$3,000

La Comida
Support for newly opened downtown senior lunch program$7,500

Live in Peace
"Gap Year Project" to guide and support at-risk high school graduates unprepared or uncertain about careers or college$7,500

Marine Science Institute
Underwriting of environmental and marine science education program for K-12 low-income students$5,000

Music in the Schools Foundation
Music education in Ravenswood school district$5,000

New Creation Home Ministries
Parenting and life skills classes for teen mothers in East Palo Alto$5,000

New Voices for Youth
Video production equipment and training for middle school students at the Boys and Girls Club in East Palo Alto$3,000

Palo Alto Art Center Foundation
Cultural Kaleidoscope, an arts-education program pairing Palo Alto and East Palo Alto students and using professional artists$5,000

Palo Alto Housing
Workshops for high school students and parents residing in subsidized housing on college and career options and financial planning$5,000

Palo Alto Music Connection
Volunteer student-run group providing free music lessons to Ravenswood middle school students$5,000

Peninsula HealthCare Connection
Mobile "Backpack Medicine" program to reach area homeless who need but do not seek out medical care$7,500

Peninsula Volunteers
Meals on Wheels program serving 13,000 meals to low-income clients in East Palo Alto and Menlo Park$5,000

Project WeHOPE
Classes and counseling to support the homeless in East Palo Alto$15,000

Ravenswood Education Foundation
Purchase of school uniforms and other clothing for homeless and low-income students in Ravenswood school district$7,500

Rebuilding Together Peninsula
Safe at Home home repair program serving low-income home owners in East Palo Alto$5,000

Silicon Valley Urban Debate League
After school debate program at East Palo Alto Academy, Oxford Day Academy and College Track and Summer Debate Institute$5,000

St. Elizabeth Seton School
New and updated science text books for K-5 classrooms$10,000

St. Francis of Assisi Youth Club
After school literacy and enrichment program for 3rd through 5th graders in East Palo Alto and east Menlo Park$5,000

TheatreWorks
TheatreWorks for Schools arts education program for grades K-12$5,000

YMCA East Palo Alto
Summer "Full STEAM Ahead" program for high school students, combining academic curriculum with recreational outings$10,000

YMCA Ross Road
Five-week summer enrichment camp for low-income elementary school students who are required to attend PAUSD summer school$5,000

Youth Community Service
Support of Summer of Service day camp scholarships, service clubs at local middle and high schools, service days and life skills programs for at-risk teens$20,000

Youth Speaks Out
Expressive arts program enabling marginalized teens whose voices may not be otherwise heard to collaborate on artistic projects with each other and supportive adults.$12,000

Child Care Facility Improvement Grants

Friends of Preschool Family
Playground improvements, including outdoor musical instruments and raised planting bed$5,000

Grace Lutheran Preschool
Raised planter boxes and new irrigation system in play yard$5,000

The Learning Center
Continued construction of outdoor classroom, including water table, raised beds and outdoor musical instruments$5,000

Palo Alto Community Child Care
Outdoor garden learning classroom at Thacher Children's Center$10,000

Palo Alto Friends Nursery School
Outdoor teacher work station$5,000

Parents Nursery School
Maintenance of outdoor play structures, including replacement of old tires with building blocks$5,000

As of Jan 8, 2019,
370 donors have contributed $401,365.
* indicates amount withheld

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Amado Padilla & Deborah Farrington500
Jerry & Linda Elkind500
Donald & Virginia Fitton25
Don & Bonnie Miller100
Roger V. Smith300
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Cynthia Costell100
Anna & Chris Saccheri1,000
Eric Keller & Janice Bohman250
Diana Diamond150
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Peter Beller & Nadine Dabby*
Carol Kersten300
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Michal Sadoff100
Ellen Krasnow*
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Jocelyn Dong*
Spreng Family200
Susan D. Osofsky200
Leo & Marlys Keoshian100
John & Lee Pierce250
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Don & Dee Price*
Anne & Don Vermeil*
John & Mary Schaefer100
Judy Ousterhout*
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B & D Fryberger100
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Richard & Tish Fagin100
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Al & Joanne Russell300
Harry & Susan Hartzell100
Frances Codispoti500
Hal & Carol Louchheim400
Herbert Fischgrund200
Diane & Brandy Sikic*
Karen Backer500
Rosalie Shepherd100
David Thom200
Sylvia McGovern100
Lawrence Dong50
Annette Isaacson100
Pamela Wong25
Barbara Kinsey500
Thomas Rindfleisch*
Elgin & Elizabeth Lee500
Weil Family1,000
Epstein Family500
Kenyon Family500
Ellmann Family100
Helene Pier*
David & Virginia Pollard150
Diane Finkelstein200
Elizabeth Shepard*
Nancy Moss*
Rita Vrhel300
Virginia Laibl500
Barbara Klein & Stan Schrier*
Paul Kingston Duffie50
Carol Hubenthal50
Steve & Virginia Morgan50
Barbara Noparstak & Duane Bay100
Judith & Hans Steiner150
Marc & Margaret Cohen250
Dennis & Cindy Dillon*
Carol Gilbert*
Jane Holland*
Mike & Lennie Roberts200
Hoda Epstein*
Larry Breed200
Colleen Anderson250
Elizabeth Bechtel100
Peter Giles125
Georgie Gleim500
Jeremy Platt & Sondra Murphy*
Jean Doble*
George Chippendale50
Robert Stevens200
Richard Mazze100
Sandy Liu100
Charles Katz400
Richard N Ellson100
Kathryn & A.C. Johnston100
Claire Lauing250
Alice Evarts500
Carol O'Neill25
Reed Content200
Nancy Peterson100
Joanne Koltnow100
Susan Elgee & Steve Eglash500
Liz Kok*
Werner Graf*
Vincent Steckler500
Norm & Nancy Rossen*
Debra Satz & Don Barr*
John & Lynn Wiese150
Lawrence Yang & Jennifer Kuan1,000
Delle Maxwelll2,500
Steve & Gayle Brugler1,000
Andy & Eva Dobrov150
Kate & Marvin Feinstein200
Scott Pearson500
Marilyn, Dale, Rick & Mei Simbeck*
Bruce & Mary Beth Train250
Sherry Brown250
Charlie Williams125
Jonathan Macquitty & Laurie Hunter1,000
Gavin & Patricia Christensen*
Ralph Britton200
Barbara Allen100
Veronica Tincher*
Kay Sabin*
Leannah Hunt250
Marilee & Sam Anderson100
Chen & Lee Family300
Teresa Roberts1,000
Mr. & Mrs. John J. McLaughlin100
Ellen King200
Patricia Levin100
Joan Norton*
Susan Bartalo & David Fischer150
In Memory Of

Er-Ying & Yen-Chen Yen250
Janet Hermsen200
Ray Bacchetti250
Nancy & Bob Lobdell*
Ruth & Chet Johnson*
Tracy & Alan Herrick100
Bob Fenster*
David, Zoe & Ken100
Mrs. Nancy Yih*
Thomas W. & Louise L. Phinney*
Leo & Sylvia Breidenbach*
Corrine Aulgur*
Duncan Matteson250
Pam Grady300
Elliot Eisner*
Nate Rosenberg200
Francine Mendlin250
Bob Donald*
Bill Land*
Emmett Lorey*
Ted Linden200
Marie & Don Snow150
Ben Barres100
Kathleen Morris*
Our Loving Parents Albert & Beverly Pellizzari*
August L. King*
Julia Schwartz*
Lee Domenik*
Marts Beekley, M.D.*
Margaret McAvity - "Granny"*
Carol Berkowitz*
Don Kenyon100
Judge Bart Phelps*
Ernest J. Moore200
Jacques, Nancy, Wanda & Jimmy George*
Sally Landy & Betty Meltzer50
Mary Floyd & Susan Thomas50
Jack Sutorius300
Jim & Dottie Mellberg200
Robert Spinrad*
Boyd Paulson Jr.*
Edward & Elizabeth Buurma*
Samuel Benjamin Kurland300
David Mitchell200
Gary A Fry250
Lindsey Draper100
Abe & Helen Klein50
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Bob Markevitch*
Tinney Family250
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In Honor Of

Melissa Baten Caswell*
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Jill200
Scott200
Polly200
Hayley200
Jake200
Garrett200
Gil200
Joe Simitian*
Marilyn Sutorius300
Physicians, Kaiser RWC*
Shapiro Family500
As a Gift For

Logan Marsh & Gabby Perez1,000
Businesses/Organizations

Palo Alto Weekly Moonlight Run & Walk69,110
Sponsors of Moonlight Run
    Stanford Hospital & Clinics10,000
    Wilson Rosati Goodrich & Rosati Foundation5,000
    Palo Alto Medical Foundation5,000
    Stanford Federal Credit Union5,000
    Palantir5,000
    DeLeon Realty5,000
    Wealth Architects5,000
    Facebook5,000
    Kaiser Permanente5,000
    Lakin Spears2,000
    Bank of the West1,000
Alta Mesa Cemetery & Funeral Home2,000
Bleibler Properties1,000
Communications & Power Industries500
deLemos Properties200
Palo Alto Business Park*
Peery Foundation10,000
Arrillaga Foundation10,000