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KIDS for the BAY

 

Water testing, Keturah Ashfield
Kids for the Bay Program Director Kristina Cervantes-Yoshida helps Seaview Elementary School students test water quality at Garrity Creek in San Pablo, California. Photo: Keturah Ashfield

EPA Award
KIDS for the BAY (KftB) is the proud recipient of the Environmental Achievement Award for 2005 from the US Environmental Protection Agency.

“We are thrilled not only because the award recognizes our own staff’s hard work to promote environmental awareness and responsibility in young people, but also because it recognizes the work that our many students have done to help clean up and restore San Francisco Bay and its urban creeks,” said Mandi Billinge, KftB’s executive director.

The US EPA Region Nine’s Environmental Achievement Awards program seeks to recognize those working to protect and preserve the environment. The 37 winners of this year’s Awards were selected from 175 nominees in the Pacific Southwest.

Billinge, a former elementary school teacher and biologist, began her career in London. She founded KftB 13 years ago after moving to the US. KftB began as a one-person operation in several Berkeley, California schools. Today, with a staff of eight, KftB works with 150 teachers and 4,000 students each year in 15 cities in Alameda and Contra Costa counties in the east San Francisco Bay Area.

Using Billinge’s philosophy of education through action, KftB’s teaching staff transforms classrooms and local habitats into living laboratories for learning. The goal is to turn children on to science, give them opportunities to connect with their environment, and teach them how they can improve environmental conditions, individually and through group action.

“We work to empower students to become part of the solution to environmental problems,” explained Billinge.

KftB’s students (25,000 to date) have planted thousands of trees and wildflowers along urban creeks, cleaned tons of trash from school neighborhoods, and helped to reduce the waste stream from their schools. They’ve learned how pollutants cycle through the food chain and how they can reduce their exposure to toxins from bay food. They’ve met with elected officials to discuss neighborhood pollution problems.

“We are particularly proud of our School-Wide Action Programs, which involve the entire school in a local creek restoration project,” said Billinge. “We include every teacher and student in the school in these programs, which means that students and parents participate in KIDS for the BAY’s projects year after year as they move through a school.” In target schools, KftB’s programs are integrated into the school-wide curricula and culture.

Teachers and principals are enthusiastic about KftB’s programs. “Our School-Wide Creek Program has been the major highlight of this year,” said Minh-Tram Nguyen, principal at Encompass Academy Elementary School in Oakland, California. “During the time that KIDS for the BAY has been teaching here, students’ achievement levels have increased markedly.”

Billinge is proud of KftB’s multicultural staff, which reflects the diversity of the San Francisco Bay Area. “For the environmental movement to be truly successful, it must include all communities,” she said.

Billinge is working to expand KFtB’s programs throughout the Bay Area. She plans to build an environmental education center that would restore a local urban watershed and offer an outdoor classroom and environmental action center for local schools.

“All children should be taught that they have the right to live in a clean and healthy environment,” said Billinge. “With this message, and the tools to take action, kids have a lot of hope for the future. They are the next generation of leaders of the environmental movement.”

   

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