I’m helping to make Austin Net-Zero by empowering my students to get involved in sustainability efforts and to be environmental stewards.
Austin is green and we all want to keep it that way! As a community, we’re committed to reaching the target of Net-Zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, which will ensure a safe, healthy, vibrant Austin for many years to come. Here’s the story of how one person can make a difference.
Meet Sherry Lepine, the Maverick Green STEM Academy Director at Mendez Middle School, where she also leads campus composting, gardening, and chicken keeping projects. Sherry began her career at Small Middle School, developing and managing the Green Tech Academy, with a focus on STEM studies.
Under Dr. Lepine’s leadership, Small Middle School became the first school in Texas to earn the EcoSchools USA Green Flag Award from the National Wildlife Federation. We spoke with Sherry about her commitment to Net-Zero, what her toughest challenges have been, and what advice she has for others looking to live Net-Zero. Read more below.
When I was a middle school student back in the 70’s, I participated in the first Earth Day. Since then, I have always been passionate about taking care of our Earth. Today, I help kids and their families understand the core principles of taking care of our environment. It’s very rewarding work, and I find that people are really inspired to contribute to the effort in their own ways.
How do you eat an elephant? Answer: One bite at a time! Start with something easy and tangible that students and families can do, such as recycling, composting, or planting a tree or garden. Students will let you know what sustainability and environmental stewardship topics they are interested in exploring, and you can build from there.
Working with large bureaucracies and all the barriers that are put up to prevent communities from doing things. Also, working with entities that are not on board with environmental initiatives because they perceive that it will create more work for them, such as sorting trash into the appropriate receptacle.
Seeing the excitement and motivation of the students when they are engaged in problem-based learning around STEM topics has been so rewarding, and the data shows that this type of learning is effective. This past year at Mendez Middle School, the standardized test scores of students studying in the Career and Technology Education program were 8 – 23 percentage points higher on all standardized tests at every subject tested, at every grade level! Bringing this type of education to a historically underserved population in Dove Springs has been very fulfilling.
Network with others, join organizations that are related to sustainability, and start with something easy. Don’t be afraid to ask your colleagues for help. Look for grants to help with funding your project, such as the Bright Green Future Grant from the City of Austin. There are tons of resources online, and some are free! A few of my favorites are the EcoSchools USA website and the EcoRise Youth Innovations curriculum.
Share your Net-Zero contributions with us on Twitter or Facebook and use #NetZeroHero. If you know a Net-Zero Hero who should be recognized for their efforts, send your nomination to firstname.lastname@example.org.