California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) 

Environmental Ambassadors

Burbank Unified School District

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Grantee Information

The Burbank Unified School District (USD) is located in northern Los Angeles County and serves the City of Burbank. John Muir Middle School and John Burroughs High School actively participated in the Environmental Ambassador Pilot Program (EAPP). Burbank USD was selected as an Environmental Ambassador because of its strong track record in recycling. Much of the district's strength lies in its partnership with Burbank's Public Works Department and the city-operated Burbank Recycle Center. The city provides free recycling collection at all school sites. The city works with the district to encourage innovative waste diversion programs at the school sites and provides outreach and education to students.

On environmental education matters, the district also partners with local organizations, including the California Regional Environmental Education Community Network (CREEC-LA), TreePeople, the County's Generation Earth program, the Burbank Water Reclamation Plant, and Warner Bros. Studios. The district planned to use its existing connections with local resource providers and State agencies to fully develop its status as a model Environmental Ambassador.

Burbank USD's education-related achievements during the EAPP grant period included:

  • Having Burbank USD's education programs in the EAPP complement and leverage Learn and Serve grant funding provided by the California Department of Education for CalServe, a multi-year, service-learning development program that supports the district's requirement for students to complete a service-learning project during middle/high school as a condition of graduation.
  • Developing curricular units and lessons across most subject areas for grades 6-12, with a focus on resource conservation as well as campus recycling and composting activities.
  • Combining Cesar Chavez grant funding with the EAPP funds and support from Warner Bros. Studios and the Burbank Recycle Center to develop garden-centered learning that includes composting, classroom vermicomposting, and Bokashi (compost by fermentation) in the teacher's lounge and some classrooms.

Opportunities and Obstacles

All teachers, administrators and community partners agreed that the common planning time afforded by the teacher stipends by the grant program was very valuable, both in planning educational support and diversion, garden activities.

All agreed that sustaining common planning time without grant funds would be unrealistic, thereby challenging continued collaboration. Most or all teachers did not have planning time outside their departments to promote collaboration across subject areas.

One other obstacle is that most participating teachers did not have students in common. Additionally, the added workload discouraged many teachers from joining the team.

The Burbank USD team proved that student-driven programs to recycle on campus can be effective, if organized properly. This requires:

  1. Convenience -- a recycling container next to every trash can, with many locations around campus;
  2. Motivation -- students collecting the recycling are members of clubs which benefit from the proceeds;
  3. Campus "culture" that promotes pride in conservation; and
  4. Infrastructure to provide pickup and delivery of materials collected to a recycling center.

The City of Burbank Recycle Center is attempting to overcome the annual back-to-school learning curve for school recycling. They produce a newsletter for the schools called "School Recycling News."

In fall 2006, the Recycle Center held two after-school workshops as a recycling "refresher course" for teachers and administrators. Food and information was provided.

The Burbank USD has also established a Service Learning Committee, in an effort to establish better ties to the community where projects would be conducted, as well as resolve program issues and formulate policies for district consideration. The committee is a large group which meets several times each school year.

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Diversion Successes

Burbank USD's diversion-related achievements during the EAPP grant period included:

  • Adopting a resolution on sustainability and resource efficiency in the design and construction of district projects. This resolution stipulated the district would incorporate criteria established by the Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS) in construction projects when feasible.
  • Continuing collaborative work with the city-operated Burbank Recycle Center to accommodate the district's increased recycling needs. The city provides free recycling collection to the district.
  • Implementing a paper recycling program in all classrooms, thereby greatly increasing the amount of paper recycling. Most campus recycling programs are student-run, resulting in minimal impact on custodial staff.
  • Increasing recycling of cans, bottles, paper, batteries, and ink cartridges within the district, and the number of on-site school gardens.
  • Burbank USD purchased a mulching lawn mower with grant funds. This equipment has been documented to save time and create efficiencies for the maintenance staff.
  • A beverage container recycling program at the John Muir Middle School and the John Burroughs High School that resulted in a revenue increase of at least $2,500 per year at each school.
  • Recycling electronic waste material.
  • Implementation of several changes in resource management practices that may not have resulted in quantifiable waste reduction, but are nevertheless just as important for resource conservation, such as purchase and use of steam-based equipment for pest management.

Lessons Created

Lessons created by the teams tied to the EAPP program as well as to the CalServe Learn and Serve program. This blending provided a way for teachers to create standards-based lessons for their subject areas which addressed waste management and conservation, while giving the students opportunity to engage in service learning. The lessons included here include elective courses offered by the two schools, in addition to core subject areas.

A notable lesson was the eighth grade science lesson, where students investigated the properties of household batteries and the potential health hazards from improper disposal. These students were so motivated by the lessons that they implemented a campus-wide household battery collection program. The effort included posters, a brochure, and organized collection efforts.


Program Contacts

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Last updated: September 24, 2013
Office of Education and the Environment
Contact: (916) 341-6769