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."

Make a donation
2018 Grant Recipients

10 Books A Home
Expansion of in-home tutoring and literacy program helping parents prepare their preschoolers for kindergarten through age-appropriate books and reading exercises$15,000

49ers Academy
Consolidation and relocation to a single middle school of the reading intervention and academic support program at to help prepare Ravenswood middle school students for high school $5,000

Able Works
Financial literacy education for students at Menlo-Atherton High School and East Palo Alto charter high schools and for young families$5,000

Acterra
Energy audits and solar installations aimed at reducing utility costs for low income residents of East Palo Alto and Belle Haven$5,000

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

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

All Students Matter
Launch of new literacy intervention program focused on 3rd-5th grade students in Ravenswood school district$10,000

Art in Action
Art education program serving more than 900 students in the Ravenswood school district$5,000

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

Bayshore Christian Ministries
Academic "Create" summer camp providing multiple tracks for Ravenswood district middle school students$5,000

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

CASSY
School-based mental health services to students and families in six 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
Stipends for homeless volunteers who perform community services in downtown Palo Alto as they transition to regular employment$7,500

DreamCatchers
New system to document student progress and improve communication among tutors of Palo Alto middle school students$10,000

East Palo Alto Kids Foundation
Educator Micro Grants Program, providing up to $600 grants to teachers in schools in East Palo Alto and east Menlo Park$10,000

East Palo Alto Tennis & Tutoring
Literacy evaluations for first through eighth graders in Ravenswood schools to determine needed interventions$7,500

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

Family Connections
Early childhood education program for parents of preschoolers in East Palo Alto and east Menlo Park.$7,500

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 at Willow Oaks Elementary School$5,000

Get Involved Palo Alto
Service-learning internship placement program for high school students wanting to work with low-income youth$10,000

Health Connected
Sexual health education instruction in Ravenswood middle schools$5,000

Hidden Villa
Summer camp scholarships $5,000

JLS Middle School
Homework Habitat after-school homework and tutoring program three days a week$4,000

Jordan Middle School
Jordan Academic Wellness Support (JAWS) providing after-school study center for students three days a week$4,000

Kara
Spanish language peer grief support 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$5,000

Marine Science Institute
Environmental and marine science education program for 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

Nuestra Casa
ESL classes for East Palo Alto adults$7,500

One East Palo Alto
Summer job and mentoring program for at-risk East Palo Alto youth$5,000

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

Palo Alto Housing
Family Reading Club for parents and youth living in subsidized rental apartments managed by Palo Alto Housing $4,000

Peninsula Bridge
After school and summer academic support programs for low income middle and high school students with a goal of attending college$5,000

Peninsula HealthCare Connection
Health care supplies and services provided at the Opportunity Center clinic$5,000

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

Quest Learning Center
Parent education workshops for parents of 2nd to 5th graders in East Palo Alto $5,000

Ravenswood Education Foundation
Purchase of washing machines at three district schools$10,000

Rosalie Rendu Center
ESL and life skills classes for East Palo Alto adults$3,500

Silicon Valley FACES
Scholarships for East Palo Alto teens to attend Camp Everytown youth diversity training weekend$5,000

Silicon Valley Urban Debate League
Summer debate camp for at-risk students in East Palo Alto$5,000

St. Francis of Assisi Youth Club
Meals for low-income third to fifth graders attending East Palo Alto after-school program$5,000

Stanford Jazz Workshop
Pilot of new after-school jazz music program for Ravenswood school district 6th graders$2,500

Terman Middle School
Homework Habitat after-school homework and tutoring program three days a week$4,000

YMCA East Palo Alto
Summer "Full STEAM Ahead" program for high school students, combining academic curriculum with recreational outings$7,500

YMCA Ross Road
Six-week summer enrichment camp for low-income students attending Barron Park Elementary 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$15,000

Youth Speaks Out
Expressive arts program enabling teens whose voices may not be otherwise heard to collaborate on artistic projects with each other and supportive adults.$15,000

Child Care Facility Improvement Grants

Children's Center of the Stanford Community
New classroom tables and chairs and additional trikes$5,000

Children's Pre-School Center
Replacement of climbing structure$5,000

Friends of Preschool Family
Replacement of climbing structure$5,000

Grace Lutheran Preschool
New cabinets and counters$5,000

The Learning Center
Installation of new Nature Explore "Outdoor Classroom"$5,000

Palo Alto Community Child Care
Upgrade of outdoor play space at Barron Park Children's Center$10,000

Palo Alto Friends Nursery School
Replacement of single-pane windows$5,000

Parents Nursery School
Repavement of parking area$5,000

Peninsula Family Service
Repairs and improvements of outdoor play area at Haven Child Development Center$5,000

As of Dec. 12, 2018,
197 donors have contributed $198,275.
* indicates amount withheld

David Labaree300
Bruce Campbell200
Janis Ulevich100
Mike Gordon250
Bill Reller*
Ellen & Mike Turbow200
Xiaofan Lin50
M D Savioe*
Ron Wolf200
Marcia & Michael Katz200
Tom Goodrich100
Leif & Sharon Erickson250
Stephen Levy 500
John & Meg Monroe500
Daniel Cox200
Richard Zuanich200
Kieschnick Family*
Deborah Williams500
Joan & Roger Warnke*
Havern Family"5,000
Bill Johnson & Terri Lobdell"1,000
Mike & Jean Couch250
Tony & Judy Kramer*
Peter Stern*
Dorothy Saxe100
David & Nancy Kalkbrenner100
David & Lynn Mitchell450
Barbara Riper*
Nancy & Joe Huber100
Sue Kemp250
Richard Baumgartner & Elizabeth Salzer*
Sally & Craig Nordlund500
Ted & Ginny Chu*
Stev & Mary Chapel50
Ruth Hammett100
Drew McCalley & Marilyn Green100
Roy & Carol Blitzer*
Judith Appleby200
Carolyn Brennan*
Susana & Doug Woodman*
Jody Maxmin*
Pat Burt250
Larry Baer500
Arthur Keller*
Lawrence Naiman100
Pamela Mayerfeld100
Eileen Brooks500
Scott & Jan Kilner500
Andrea Smith100
Braff Family500
Eugene & Mabel Dong200
Debby Roth200
Phil Hanawalt & Garciela Spivak"1,000
Lani Freeman & Stephen Monismith100
Tom & Ellen Ehrlich350
Robert & Barbara Simpson*
Gwen Luce*
Robert Aulger*
Pat & John Davis50
Art & Peggy Stauffer500
Kroymann Family250
Mahlon & Carol Hubenthal*
Karen & Steve Ross*
Wileta Burch*
Mandy Lowell*
George & Betsy Young*
Tom & Pat Sanders*
Gerald & Joyce Barker200
Brigid Barton & Rob Robinson400
Jim & Alma Phillips500
Peggy & Boyce Nute*
Michael & Cathie Foster500
Diane Moore*
Linda & Steve Boxer*
Chuck & Jean Thompson100
Julie Jerome500
Bonnie Berg*
Gallo Family500
Ann & Don Rothblatt500
Caryn Huberman Yacowitz*
Shirley R. Ely"1,000
Luca & Mary Cafiero*
Steve & Diane Ciesinski500
Jennifer DiBrienza & Jesse Dorogusker500
James W. & Nancy E. Baer200
The Ely Family250
Page & Ferrell Sanders100
JoAnne N. Zschokke100
Ralph R. Wheeler300
Bert Fingerhut & Caroline Hicks250
Kaaren & John Antoun1,500
Richard Johnsson"7,000
Bruce Gee & Jane Gee250
Eric Hahn & Elaine Hahn"1,000
Bob & Dee Crawford*
Diane & Bob Simoni200
Jan Thomson & Roy Levin*
Donald & Adele Langendorf200
Irvin & Marilyn Yalom100
Brigid Barton500
Jerry & Bobbie Wagger*
John & Florine Galen*
H. Anton & Carolyn Tucher250
Phil Fernandez & Daniel Sternbergh*
Bob & Micki Cardelli*
John Pavkovich500
Eileen Stolee100
Sallie Whaley*
Ann Burrell & Allen Smith*
Patti Yanklowitz150
Linda Selden*
Dena Hill500
Michael Patrick200
Bonnie Packer100
Romola Georgia*
Martha Shirk500
Christina Kenrick"1,000
Dawes Family250
Ken Bencala & Sally O'Neil200
Nina & Norman Kulgein*
Tom & Nancy Fiene*
Lee Zulman*
Merrill & Lee Newman250
Judy & Lee Shulman200
Donna & Jerry Silverberg100
Victor Befera100
Kay & Don Remsen*
Beth & Peter Rosenthal300
Robyn H. Crumly*
Charles & Barbara Stevens*
Amado Padilla & Deborah Farrington500
Jerry & Linda Elkind500
Donald & Virginia Fitton25
Don & Bonnie Miller100
Roger V. Smith300
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*
In Honor Of

Melissa Baten Caswell*
Lucy Berman's clients"2,500
Jill200
Scott200
Polly200
Hayley200
Jake200
Garrett200
Gil200
Joe Simitian*
Businesses/Organizations

Alta Mesa Cemetery & Funeral Home2,000
Bleibler Properties1,000
Communications & Power Industries500
deLemos Properties200

Apply for a Holiday Fund Grant

Nonprofits serving children and families may apply for funds by downloading our Grant Application Guidelines and Grant Application Form. Application deadline: 11:59 p.m. on January 4, 2019.