California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) 

Environmental Ambassadors

Desert Sands Unified School District

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Grantee Information


 (USD) is located in the Coachella Valley in eastern Riverside County, and it lies within the boundaries of six jurisdictions: Bermuda Dunes, Rancho Mirage, Indio, La Quinta, Palm Desert, and Indian Wells. Four elementary schools, one middle school, and and one high school from the district participated in the Environmental Ambassador Pilot Program (EAPP).

Desert Sands USD was selected to be an Environmental Ambassador because of its strong track record in recycling. The district's environmental services manager position has allowed for planned resource conservation programs to be established and maintained at the district level. The environmental services manager works with all of the district's school sites to encourage the establishment of recycling programs tailored for each school's needs and provides resource conservation education for the district's teachers. The district also has strong external support provided by the Desert Resources Council, made up of 25 local conservation organizations.

Desert Sands USD's education programs under the EAPP project became an integral component of a much larger Voluntary Public School Choice (VPSC) federal grant to the district. Some of the highlights of the education programs included:

  • Developing a unified vision of resource conservation centered on the local desert environment for curricula, resulting in institutionalization of the programs at the six VPSC schools.
  • Team planning across grade levels and subject areas, thereby allowing the teachers to create instructional units that build sequentially from kindergarten through twelfth grade.
  • Developing environmental themes that unify each school site and grade-specific standards-based lessons that reflect these themes.
  • Disseminating the instructional units to additional teachers each year as the program progressed.
  • Fostering long-term community partnerships to provide sustainability of the field activities and student involvement.
  • Linking lessons to the waste diversion and conservation practices on the campuses where possible.
  • City and local partners sponsored an Environmental Art Contest for the District.

The EAPP grant enabled Desert Sands USD to meet its commitment under the Voluntary Public School Choice federal grant to develop a family of magnet schools (K-12) with a technology and environment focus.

Opportunities and Obstacles

The District provided a thorough evaluation of the program in its final report for the EAPP. This evaluation will be available to view on this website soon.

Another exciting insight into efforts at this Desert Sands USD is documentation regarding the gardens created in the program. This documentation will be available to view on this web site soon.

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Diversion Successes

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

  • Adopting a formal district wide integrated waste management policy.
  • Implementing a pilot food waste composting program in collaboration with local jurisdictions, the hauler, and a local compost facility.
  • Developing a cooperative recycled-content product purchasing consortium in collaboration with local jurisdictions.
  • Establishing a collaborative working relationship with the hauler to meet increased diversion needs.
  • Establishing a school recycling competition and recognition program.
  • Developing a district wide program for classroom paper recycling.
  • Expanding the types of material diverted from the Food Service Department.

Lessons Created

The family of six schools in the VPSC/EAPP team developed an overarching K-12 learning theme: How do the natural and social systems of the Coachella Valley interact? This formed the basis for each school team to develop a theme, and then grade-level- appropriate standards-based lessons were developed. So for instance, the focus of a 5th grade lesson at Carter Elementary focus was "to view the plants within their natural environment (the dune) and observe the changes and adaptations of the plants as man intrudes." The students studied a portion of the Coachella Valley natural/social systems on and near their campus at Carter Elementary: the sand dunes.

The Palm Desert High School Staff and Curriculum Development program initially included five teachers who created an interdisciplinary unit across these subject areas: English grade 9, biology, English language development, chemistry, mathematics, and social studies. The overall focus of the unit is "Saline Lakes: Local and Global Perspectives." The service-learning experience for students was a trip to the environs of the Salton Sea, and wetlands development and salt cedar removal. Data for the students' research project was shared from monitoring of New River wetlands, New River waters, and 29 Palms tribal U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) work. The team had focus group meetings, consisting of after-school, one-hour informational sessions. Each session addressed one of the following topics: WebAssign, Flexcamera (two cameras were purchased with other funding as a result of the sessions), digital camera/digital photo, Classroom Performance Systems demonstration, (online services for educators), dimensional analysis, and digital curriculum.

Lessons from all six schools, grade levels K-12, will be accessible on this website soon.

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Student Work Samples and Accomplishments

The project "The Wonderful, Weird World of Worms" was honored with seven awards at the International Student Media Festival in October 2005. The entire multimedia project won an Excellence in Media Award along with a Best of Festival Award. "Take the Time," a public service announcement on recycling, won an Excellence in Media Award and also a Best of Festival Award. "Recycle Lunch," a training video on how to recycle leftover lunch items at school, won an Excellence in Media Award. The multimedia project and the public service announcement also won Judges Choice Awards.

Earlier this year, the multimedia project won first place for instructional multimedia in the California Student Media and Multimedia Festival. The project was led by Judy Grenier, a 2nd grade teacher, along with the Technology Specialist, Linda Reynolds, at Lincoln Elementary.

Desert Sands USD and the projects at Palm Desert High School won a 2005 Governor's Environmental and Economic Leadership Award.

La Quinta High School was not a part of the VPSC/EAPP program, but it was included in a booklet containing 17 profiles from across the U.S. of K-12 school-based and community projects focusing on safe solid waste management. The high school's inclusion in the booklet, published by U.S. EPA, is a sign of the district's conservation "culture."


Program Contacts

Environmental Ambassadors Home

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