By Pablo La Roche, Director of Sustainable Design

Fueled by a Community Project grant from HMC’s Designing Futures Foundation, Eera Babtiwale, Sandy Kate, and myself kicked off the first in a series of three sustainability workshops for students at McKinley Elementary School in Santa Monica, Calif. We developed the “Sustainable Environments Seen Through the Eyes of Elementary School Children” workshops with the goal of providing students with a worldview perspective of  environmental issues to give them practical suggestions on how they, as elementary school children, can build a better planet for all.

The first workshop was led by Eera Babtiwale and focused on water. She had three groups of about 80 elementary students from grades 3, 4, and 5. For each of these groups, Eera presented the information in a simple and fun way, complete with music, dance, and beautiful illustrations created specifically for our workshop by Sarah Banning. After each presentation, the students broke into smaller groups to work with McKinley school teachers on a hands-on project. They built an aquifer in a cup and then added some “contaminants” to the ground and watched how they seeped underground into the water. It was great to see how the students observed the colored substance seep into the water and then suddenly connect it to real life.

In addition to the students from McKinley Elementary School, we had students from Maracaibo, Venezuela Skype in for the workshop. It was an exciting moment for all students in Santa Monica and Venezuela to connect with each other and share this learning experience. One of the students at my table explained what we were doing to a student in Venezuela via Skype. As a father, it was also fun to see my son participating in the activity, and since he can’t speak, he used his augmentative communication app on his iPad to interact with the other students.

We left the workshop tired and happy, hoping to have transmitted some love for the planet to 300 kids from Maracaibo and Santa Monica. We also left with a new appreciation for what our school teachers do, spending hours and hours providing an education to our kids. This was an incredible experience that reminds us of the value of direct contact and teaching children.

I will lead the next workshop about energy at on February 28, and Sandy Kate will lead the last one that focuses on waste on March 20.