In the future today’s young people are going to be making important decisions about a host of environmental challenges faced by the southwestern states, from climate change and wildfires to habitat loss and pollution.
At three schools in northern New Mexico, students are being taught how to assess and solve such problems—by doing as they learn.
At the Institute of American Indian Arts, the Rio Gallinas School, and Santa Fe High School, students have been learning how to assess the ecological footprints made by their schools. For example, how much natural gas, water, and electricity does it take to run those schools?
Through energy and water audits, students learn how to answer that question. They learn how those resources are produced, and how they travel to their schools.
Perhaps more important, that background learning is coupled with immediate efforts to make the schools more efficient. Students draw up and implement plans for replacing light bulbs, weather-stripping cracks, fixing water leaks, building cooling shade structures, and installing programmable thermostats. They’ve replaced toxic cleaning products with safer alternatives, and have set about harvesting rainwater for landscaping.
The program is coordinated by Audubon New Mexico and the Santa Fe-based Earth Works Institute. The students who benefit from this hands-on training are largely from Hispanic, Native American, or low-income backgrounds. The goal is to plant seeds of creative conservation—in the hope that the lessons learned in simple actions today may help solve bigger problems in the future.