San Francisco Environment Department

2020 School Awardees

Since 2007, the San Francisco Department of the Environment’s School Education team has awarded innovative school communities that support San Francisco’s climate protection goals. These goals include eliminating waste, promoting healthy communities and ecosystems, and amplifying community action.

This year, San Francisco youth are increasingly focused on climate justice and taking action forwards a more equitable future. While many know Greta Thunberg as a youth climate action leader, the San Francisco Department of the Environment recognizes the amazing work of our local youth climate action leaders with the 2020 School Awardees.

We are honoring awardees from Abraham Lincoln High School, Balboa High School, George Washington High School, Guadalupe Elementary, Presidio Middle School, and Ruth Asawa School of the Arts for their tireless efforts to achieve zero waste, enhance biodiversity, and ensure youth climate justice.

Join us in celebrating the 2020 awardees and their inspiring work to advance climate justice for all.


Waste Zero Hero

Robin Fong

Spearheading zero waste at George Washington High School

Robin Fong (she/her) from George Washington High School class of 2020 took her daily zero waste actions and turned them into a campus-wide initiative. As President of the Associated Student Body (ASB), Robin felt she must take action to reduce the amount of litter on campus and create a more sustainable culture for the school community.

Throughout this school year, Robin advocated for more compost and recycling bins by reaching out directly to the Principal, teachers, and partners like San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) Sustainability Office, Recology, and the San Francisco Department of the Environment. Then, she rallied the student body to engage in lunchtime zero waste workshops and “green minute” zero waste assembly updates throughout the school year so students and staff could see the impact of their actions.

Motivated by her deep love of nature and exploring the outdoors with her family, Robin feels that her community and future generations should be able to enjoy nature. Robin plans to take this passion for equity and youth climate justice into her college career.

The Waste Zero Hero Award is granted to youth who collaborate with others and innovate in order to reduce waste generation and improve zero waste sorting within their school community.


Rooted in Nature

Nora McConnel and Grace McGee

Nurturing the student community by nurturing campus green space

Nora McConnel (she/her) class of 2022 and Grace McGee (she/her) class of 2020 took greening their campus at Ruth Asawa School of the Arts to the next level this year. They revived their existing school farm while also expanding green spaces throughout the school.

As leaders in their Environmental Club, they saw a need to revive green spaces that hadn’t been tended and build new greening projects. Nora and Grace worked with Ecology Center of San Francisco, a non-profit that cultivates ecological awareness, to grow fruits and vegetables on their campus. They taught fellow students about the importance of caring for their place, their community, and themselves through daily plant watering and chicken keeping practices.

Additionally, they created community space to discuss the importance of biodiversity. Greening effort discussions were held at campus-wide events and city-wide Youth Climate summits in collaboration with other schools. They plan to continue this work and empower other youth to deeply connect to nature at Ruth Asawa School of the Arts.

The Rooted in Nature Award is granted to youth who take daily actions towards conserving natural resources and cultivating the school community’s connection to nature.


Youth Climate Justice

Wendy Lei, Jordy Lopez, Nora McConnel, Grace McGee, Sakura Martin, Sean Mueller, and Karina Rosales

Students form cross-city SFUSD team to uplift youth climate justice

Together, a group of students from Abraham Lincoln High School, Balboa High School, and Ruth Awasa School of the Arts were awarded a grant through the District’s iLab. This spurred a community-wide initiative to incorporate climate justice on their school campuses and in their curricula.

This team of students formed the Climate Justice Action Planning Design Team, with participation from school administrators, teachers, and city-agencies. The Team used findings from numerous interviews, surveys, and facilitated group discussions to gather the diverse community perspective to create district-wide climate justice proposals.

The students agreed, “It’s been great to see how we can make real and structural change in our district and how it has blown up and expanded from this small group of students.”

This student-led effort resulted in a surge in climate-focused curriculum and professional development for teachers, a Youth Leadership Program of Climate Fellows, and campus-based youth leadership opportunities, a Carbon Reduction Plan, and a student-led resolution will be presented to the Board of Education in 2020.

The Youth Climate Justice Award is granted to youth who collaborate to design innovative solutions that improve the health, wellness, and resiliency of their school community.


Climate Justice

Yanira Curry

Inspiring youth climate justice at Guadalupe Elementary School

Yanira Curry (she/her), a Student Advisor and Community Liaison of 13 years at Guadalupe Elementary School, takes climate actions each day to create a more just, healthy, and livable school community.

In partnership with San Francisco Safe Routes to School program, Yanira champions the Walking School Bus program, a parent-initiated group of adults and children working to make it safer for students to walk to school. Each year, Yanira participates in the Earth Day Every Day Challenge, a SFUSD-wide challenge open to all of the K-12 schools. Through this challenge, Yanira encourages her community to earn points by taking small and big actions and climb up the leaderboard, a competitive district-wide environmental leadership tracker, while also creating a culture of sustainability.

From her daily actions of walking to school to her support for changing school culture to be more sustainable, Yanira is a leader within the community. She plans to continue to support local non-profit partners, families, and the entire school community to make a brighter future for all at Guadalupe Elementary.

The Climate Justice Award is granted to an administrator, teacher, custodial or support staff who has demonstrated their commitment to uplift and empower students to achieve their sustainability goals and take climate action in their school community.


Food to Flowers

Jose D. Membreno

Leading custodians in zero waste across the SFUSD

Jose D. Membreno, a SFUSD Custodial Supervisor of 35 years, led the charge in zero waste initiatives across SFUSD. His commitment to the zero waste management projects at George Washington High School and Presidio Middle School support climate justice for San Francisco’s youth now and into the future. Jose’s collaboration with his staff, the students, and the whole school community resulted in a sustainable plan for zero waste at Presidio Middle School.

Jose’s zero waste work began when he learned of SFUSD’s board-approved goal to divert 85% of campus waste from landfill into composting and recycling by 2025. He swiftly took action and not only improved his schools’ diversion rate, but many others across the district. By analyzing other schools’ diversion reports and coordinating with fellow supervisors, Jose supported several schools in adjusting their service to reach higher recycling and composting rate.

His credibility, innovation, and collaboration came together as a force felt by his colleagues that rippled out to the rest of the District and supports SFUSD in meeting its Zero Waste goals. Jose’s passion is fueled by his desire to create a better and more just future through youth climate justice.

The Food to Flowers Award is granted to an administrator, teacher, custodial or support staff who strives to create a better planet for future generations through designing solutions towards eliminating waste.


More on the School Awards

The School Education program at San Francisco Department of the Environment provides free award-winning programs and curricula to all K-12 public and private schools in San Francisco. Annually, five awards are given to the K-12 school community leaders. Three award nominations are open for K-12 youth and two award nominations are open for adult supporting K-12 youth. The purpose of these awards to recognize and celebrate the work being done -- by youth, supporting adults, and school communities - to advance climate justice for all.


Student at Candlestick Point State Park removing invasive species.

Group of students celebrates their environmental award medals with our mascot, Phoebe the Phoenix.
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