MEarth at the Hilton Bialek Habitat
MEarth: A place to connect ME to Earth
MEarth at the Hilton Bialek Habitat
In the early years, the goal was to create an outdoor classroom for the middle school science teachers. Students participated in a native plant program designed to attract bird, insect and mammal species for study. These programs were squeezed into their already busy classroom schedules.
Today, fifteen years later, MEarth at the Hilton Bialek Habitat has blossomed into bustling non-profit environmental education center committed to inspiring students, of all ages, to understand, appreciate and protect the natural environment. We have a dynamic staff of six that provides diverse place-based programming to K-12 students in the Carmel Unified School District, and to community youth from the underserved areas of Monterey County.
Grade specific, standards based lessons focus on native plant propagation, habitat restoration, wildlife studies, sustainable agriculture, cooking and nutrition, climate change, resources, alternative energy systems, waste/recycling and green building components. In November 2006 the State of California acknowledged the MEarth Habitat’s model programming by granting it the Governors Environmental and Economic Leadership Award for Children’s Environmental Education.
Our goal over the past few years has been to introduce sustainability principles into all aspects of our programming. We believe that educational institutions should teach young people to contribute to their communities and the wellbeing of the planet, through daily personal action. We teach students that all of their actions- from the clothes they wear, the food they eat, the cars they drive, the homes they live in- has direct impact not only on their lives but also on our planets health. To further demonstrate this philosophy, we are about to breakground on a green building/kitchen classroom that is designed as a teaching tool. Its systems will include: a PV system, a wind generator, rainwater catchment, grey water recycling and a living native grass roof.
How we are doing it
The continued growth of our organization is largely due to our commitment to nurturing and building collaborative relationships with students, teachers, parents, District administrators and community partners (i.e. Boys and Girls Club, Stanford University, Monterey Regional Park District, etc).
Almost every academic department in the Carmel Middle School uses the Habitat for a variety of hands on activities throughout the year. While science continues to be the backbone of our middle school programming, the 6th grade CORE uses the Habitat extensively throughout their yearlong study of ancient cultures. French, Spanish and Chinese classes use the outdoor kitchen to bring language to life through growing and cooking heritage foods and cultural celebrations. We also teach a daily six-week class for our 6th grade students called Ecoliteracy, that engages students in the current and pressing environmental issues facing our planet today. The class is designed to empower students to take action in their daily lives to make a positive impact on the planet.
Additionally, every 3rd-5th grader from the three elementary schools in the Carmel Unified School District comes to the Habitat for science-based field trips during the year. We also offer two classes for High School students, AP Environmental Science and an Ornamental Horticulture ROP.
Moreover, the Habitat has an outstanding record teaching place based hands-on programs to students from the underserved areas of Seaside, Marina and Salinas. Since 2004 we have offered programming to over 6000 students from underserved areas from throughout Monterey County, and we now have programming that serves over 1000 community students each year. For many of these students, their field trip to the Habitat is the only science education they receive during the academic school year!
What we are learning
The three words that serve as our mantra is: patience, persistence and perseverance. Our work is truly a labor of love. Trying to change ‘business as usual’ in public schools is often met with resistance- not unlike a salmon swimming up stream. As a staff, we are constantly having to slow down and remember that we are educating our school administrators and empowering them to make the best decisions for the sustainable future of their students AND our planet- so we can all move forward together. We have learned that developing programming, like growing a garden, is always a work in progress. Some of our lessons work beautifully; the students respond in positive ways and everyone has a great experience. Other times, things just don’t click. We keep experimenting every year with added enthusiasm and inspiration, to make the MEarth Habitat experience deeply integral to the student’s learning experience. Providing students with many different opportunities to learn allows them to develop individual relationships with nature that will help to inform their future decision- making. We have learned that it is important to give students the opportunity to engage in real world activities where they can see they are making a tangible difference in the world around them. For example, our six week, 6th grade Ecoliteracy class runs the campus recycling program and collects CRV money to donate to a global non-profit of their choosing. These students also actively participate in the organic garden program and help support our local food system by harvesting veggies to sell to local restaurants and collecting cafeteria waste for composting on site.
Lastly, the ability to creatively raise funds to support our staff and programs has proven invaluable to our organization’s continued growth and development.