Trabuco Elementary leads the way as OC schools pick up 2024 Green Ribbon Awards

Surrounded by the heavily wooded O’Neill Regional Park, Trabuco Elementary School is well positioned to integrate the natural world into its daily curriculum. 

The Saddleback Valley Unified School District campus has three specialized gardens and a working farm with miniature donkeys, horses, pigs and other animals, creating hands-on learning opportunities that extend to other Orange County schools. Meanwhile, robust recycling and composting programs, led by the student-led Trabuco Coyote Green Team, have reduced the school’s energy and water usage by 19 percent and 7 percent, respectively.

Students on farm at Trabuco Elementary
Students from Trabuco Elementary School engage in hands-on learning at their school farm.

For its innovative approaches to environmental education and stewardship, Trabuco is among 20 schools and 14 districts to earn 2024 California Green Ribbon Schools awards. And it’s one of five “Green Achievers” nominated by State Superintendent Tony Thurmond to receive special U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools recognition, also known as ED-GRS.

Overall, five of the 19 public schools that made the California Green Ribbon list this year are from Orange County. 

In addition to Trabuco, Community Roots Academy, Magnolia High School and Raymond Temple Elementary each received silver status, while Santiago Charter Middle School earned bronze. The Laguna Beach Unified School District was awarded gold for its district-wide environmental efforts.

“California Green Ribbon Schools stand as beacons of innovation that showcase pioneering approaches toward enhanced indoor air quality, the implementation of outdoor classrooms, and comprehensive environmental education initiatives,” State Superintendent Thurmond said. “Within these institutions, students are not merely recipients of knowledge; they are active participants in addressing pressing global issues, such as climate change, alongside tackling local challenges like water quality, food security, energy conservation, waste management and emotional well-being.”

The five ED-GRS designees were specifically praised for conserving resources while promoting health and environmental literacy. Here’s what the state had to say about Trabuco Elementary:

Trabuco Elementary School is in Trabuco Canyon and surrounded by O’Neill Regional Park. The school hosts on-campus field trips that allow schools across Orange County to partake in the school’s outdoor learning environments. The school has three gardens: a vegetable and fruit garden, a pollinator garden, and a mindfulness garden. Additionally, the school has a farm with miniature donkeys, horses, pigs, goats, sheep, and other animals. Rigorous problem-based science instruction incorporating California’s Environmental Principles and Concepts extends to farm and garden lessons and fosters hands-on learning. Environmental education offers hands-on experiences with natural systems. Trabuco Elementary operates recycling and composting programs where students sort leftover food for landscaping or supplementing the farm animals’ snacks. The Trabuco Coyote Green Team, which consists of kindergarten through sixth-grade students, regularly meets to brainstorm ways to enhance campus eco-friendliness. Their initiatives have led to a 19 percent reduction in energy usage and a 7 percent decrease in water usage from the previous year.

California’s other 2024 ED-GRS honorees are the Cabrillo Unified School District in San Mateo County, the Claremont Unified School District in Los Angeles County, the Rio School District in Ventura County and Pacific Ridge School in San Diego County. They’re among 41 schools, 10 districts, three postsecondary institutions and one early learning center being honored nationally.

The California Green Ribbon Schools award is based on applications submitted for ED-GRS recognition. Private school awards are presented by the California Association of Private School Organizations.

Here’s the full list of 2024 California Green Ribbon School Awardees, with local sites in bold:

Public Schools

  • Trabuco Elementary, Saddleback Unified, Orange County (Green Achiever)
  • Oxnard High, Oxnard Union High, Ventura County (Gold)
  • Bella Mente Montessori Academy, Vista Unified, San Diego County (Silver)
  • Captain Leland F. Norton Elementary, San Bernardino Unified, San Bernardino County (Silver)
  • Community Roots Academy, Capistrano Unified, Orange County (Silver)
  • Gretchen Whitney High, ABC Unified, Los Angeles County (Silver)
  • La Colina Junior High, Santa Barbara Unified, Santa Barbara County (Silver)
  • Magnolia High, Anaheim Union High, Orange County (Silver)
  • Mary Collins School at Cherry Valley, Petaluma City Schools, Sonoma County (Silver)
  • Raymond Temple Elementary, Centralia Elementary, Orange County (Silver)
  • Temecula Luiseño Elementary, Temecula Valley Union, Riverside County (Silver)
  • Walnut High, Walnut Valley Unified, Los Angeles County (Silver)
  • 24th Street Elementary, Los Angeles Unified, Los Angeles County (Bronze)
  • Charlotte N. Werner Elementary, Rialto Unified, San Bernardino County (Bronze)
  • Foothill Middle, Mt. Diablo Unified, Contra Costa County (Bronze)
  • John Muir Elementary, Berkeley Unified, Alameda County (Bronze)
  • Levi Bemis Elementary, Rialto Unified, San Bernardino County (Bronze)
  • Longfellow Elementary, Compton Unified, Los Angeles County (Bronze)
  • Santiago Charter Middle, Orange Unified, Orange County (Bronze)

Local Educational Agencies

  • Cabrillo Unified School District, San Mateo County (Green Achiever)
  • Claremont Unified School District, Los Angeles County (Green Achiever)
  • Rio School District, Ventura County (Green Achiever)
  • Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District, Solano County (Gold)
  • Laguna Beach Unified School District, Orange County (Gold)
  • Modesto City Schools, Stanislaus County (Gold)
  • Mountain View Whisman School District, Santa Clara County (Gold)
  • San Mateo County Office of Education, San Mateo County (Gold)
  • National School District, San Diego County (Silver)
  • Pittsburg Unified School District, Contra Costa County (Silver)
  • San Joaquin County Office of Education, San Joaquin County (Silver)
  • Moorpark Unified School District, Ventura County (Bronze)
  • Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District, Los Angeles County (Bronze)
  • San Benito High School District, San Benito County (Bronze)
  • Santa Clara Unified School District, Santa Clara County (Bronze)
  • Vista del Mar Union School District, Santa Barbara County (Bronze)

Private School

  • Pacific Ridge School, San Diego County (Green Achiever)

For more information, visit the California Department of Education’s Green Ribbon Schools Award Program webpage.