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Written by Lara Kilpatrick   

Mt. Madonna School brings the community together for green living


Two third grade boys walked purposefully among the crowd, small reptiles wrapped carefully in their arms. Nine-year-old Aidan Ezeji-Okoye cradled his corn snake “Legless,” while classmate Zachary Clark’s milk snake “Latte” lay intertwined among the boy’s slender fingers. The snakes (and their owners) were a big hit at the Festival for the Environment last April, where environmental stewardship, green living and green learning were on display and ‘hands-on’.

“They felt like they were really educating people and changing their minds about these often misunderstood animals,” explains Zachary’s mom, Komala Correos. Correos is an animal caretaker at the Sulphur Creek Nature Center in Hayward and she brought an array of wildlife for her booth at the Festival.

The April event was the third annual Festival hosted by the school, which began in 2007, when Mount Madonna School (MMS) focused on the Pajaro Watershed as an all-school study project. The subject was a very appropriate choice, since the School’s campus is located on 355 acres of watershed headwaters. During the course of their studies, students discovered that the local waterway was No. 1 on America’s most endangered rivers list (American Rivers, 2006). This eye-opening discovery galvanized the students and faculty to create a public event to share their studies and celebrate local organizations involved in cleaning up the waterway.

In the second year, this learning event became the Festival for the Environment. Featuring eco-friendly vendor booths, student exhibits including a solar car race, hands-on learning activities, trash fashions, live music dancing, and delicious organic foods, this family event has fast become a "green" highlight in the area. Keynote speakers have included Lois Robin of the Sierra Club, Dennis Takahashi-Kelso, Executive VP of Ocean Conversancy, and Thomas Broz of Live Earth Farm. Participating organizations represent a broad range of environmentally-focused businesses and nonprofits, from the Otter Project to Independent Energy Systems; Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society to California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF); Elkhorn Slough Foundation to Save Open Space, Gilroy. The Festival centers on giving inspiration and instruction to today’s youth and their families in how they can take meaningful action on important environmental and stewardship issues. Attendance has grown to nearly 1,000 people of all ages, from south Silicon Valley and the Monterey Bay areas.

The Festival demonstrates how revitalizing it is to bring together students, faculty, parents, grandparents, community members, scientists, and other local experts to participate together in a day of enjoyable learning activities. For a couple years, Ocean Conversancy has offered hands-on activities for elementary-age children to learn about the ocean and environmental problems that can be solved by young people. The reptile ‘guests' provided by the Bay Area Amphibian and Reptile Society (BAARS) were a huge hit in 2009! The California Bat Conservation Fund always brings live bats that attract an avid audience, and it’s rewarding to see reality overcome the myths surrounding these important creatures. Student solar reflector demonstrations awed children and grown-ups alike in its impressive display of engineering and the power of the sun (not to mention the tasty “sun-baked” chocolate chip cookies!).

One popular event each year has been the “trash fashion show” where students collect what would normally be considered trash and turn it into chic outfits that they then model for Festival attendees. Garments have included a dress made entirely out of Target bags, a cool lampshade hat, a skirt and vest constructed of old postcards, a flowing cocktail dress of recycled sheet fabric and an amazing vest made of live wheatgrass! The process of collecting garbage and then turning it into something fun - and even beautiful – focuses attention on the act of throwing something away. Event organizers plan to open the trash fashion show up to participation by students from Santa Cruz, Watsonville, Gilroy and Morgan Hill schools.

In 2009, MMS initiated Summit for the Planet, a hike-a-thon fundraiser to begin the festivities, and opened the event to all area schools and nonprofits. Hikers choose an organization they wish to support, set a goal, and then gather pledges for each kilometer they hike. Participants walk through 5 kilometers of forested trails on the school campus, which is located near Mount Madonna County Park. The trail is a mild to moderate route, and some avid walkers choose to walk/run the loop two, three, and four times. After the hike-a-thon is over and funds are collected, organizations receive 70% of all pledges and donations raised by each hike. Orchard School participated in the hike in 2009 and event planners hope to encourage many more schools and nonprofit organizations to be a part of this healthy community fundraiser in 2010. There is a great deal of behind-the-scenes work that goes into organizing, promoting and executing a fundraiser like this – but the potential for big reward to the community is great!

The event is supported primarily by the Mount Madonna students, faculty and staff. However, the significant growth of the event in 2009 can be attributed to support from local businesses, such as Independent Energy Systems, Santa Cruz Medical Foundation and Gilroy Honda, that choose to be sponsors. Growing Up in Santa Cruz, KAZU and KUSP have played an integral part in spreading the word within the Monterey Bay area communities.

Going into 2010, the goals of the Festival for the Environment and the Summit for the Planet continue to include highlighting the outstanding work that the local communities are doing to reduce environmental impact, and, at the same time, showing what more we can all do together to make the difference necessary to ensure quality of life for ourselves, our children and their children.

4th Annual Festival for the Environment
A FREE, green event for the whole family, hosted by Mount Madonna School
Saturday, April 24, 2010, 11am-3pm
491 Summit Road, Watsonville

For More Information:
Festival for the Environment – www.ecofest.us
Summit for the Planet Hike-a-thon – www.SummitforthePlanet.org
‘Trash Fashion’ show – Lara Kilpatrick, (408) 847-2717

Lara Kilpatrick is an alumna of MMS ('85), a former professional marketing event planner and currently works with MMS as Director of Advancement, overseeing admissions and community outreach.


Festival for the Environment

Mt. Madonna School brings the community together for green living

By Lara Kilpatrick

Last Updated on Saturday, 06 February 2010 16:34
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