Citizens Environmental Council begins internship program with high school students

The Citizens Environmental Council of Burlingame is offering a paid environmental internship program for high school sophomores and juniors next semester. In a partnership with the city of Burlingame, the eight-year-old nonprofit is ramping up community outreach efforts, especially among teens.

Supported by a grant from the Morris S. Smith Foundation, the program will provide hands-on education about transportation, water and waste management and energy use as it pertains to school campuses and beyond. As of Dec. 11, Burlingame, the Nueva School, and Junipero Serra High School have submitted applications. The application deadline is Jan. 15, 2018.

In 2014, the CEC advocated for the city to hire a sustainability coordinator. Since then, Sigalle Michael has filled that position and served as the CEC’s liaison with the city. She will be a mentor for the internship program. With eight years of experience at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and a University of California-Los Angeles environmental studies degree, Michael hopes that her knowledge will inspire action among teens.

“I’m looking forward to connecting with high school students and learning what inspires them around sustainability,” she said of the CEC’s new internship program. As a mentor, Michael will “create content for the sessions and guide student interest in finding real projects and solutions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.” Mike McCord is the program’s second mentor. He is a founding member of the CEC and served on the city’s Green Ribbon Task Force at former Mayor Terry Nigel’s request. He filled the position after teaching mathematics at BHS for 35 years. McCord isn’t the only former faculty member participating in the program. Matt Biggar, a former teacher and administrator in Palo Alto and a principal of BHS for six years, will be an adviser of the program. Since earning his Ph.D. from the Stanford University School of Education, he has worked as a consultant specializing in education, social change and the environment.

The CEC has drawn diverse volunteers and employees since becoming an official stand-alone nonprofit in 2016. Before then, its formation was spurred by Burlingame’s 2009 Climate Action Plan. It became a tax-deductible nonprofit when it became a fiduciary program of the Palo Alto nonprofit, Acterra Action for a Healthy Planet. Since then, it has been supporting regional efforts like Bike to Work Day, Peninsula Food Runners and the Peninsula Clean Energy program. Every year, it also presents a series of six lectures, workshops and films on topics like climate change, energy efficiency, plastic pollution in oceans, water conservation, food waste, recycling and composting.

“Two years ago we began offering scholarships to Burlingame graduates who wanted to pursue careers in environmental sciences and related fields... [and] we contributed money to the leadership class’ refillable water bottle project,” McCord said.

Their next campaign is “Opt Up,” a push for local businesses to move to 100 percent renewable and carbon-free electrical power through the Peninsula Clean Energy system.

“It is quite simple to do, and it costs the typical family just a few dollars a month more than they now pay for electricity,” McCord said.

Sophomore Jonathan Choy is president and founder of the CEC club at school. The CEC club partners with the formal CEC nonprofit of Burlingame, using creative advocacy and student film festivals as a way to rally teens to fight climate change. The club’s first event is a film festival, which will be held in March.

“In my work with CEC it has been a pleasant surprise to see how many people have environmental careers with nonprofits, private businesses and all levels of government,” Biggar said. “You can work to save the planet and get paid for it, and I think that is a noble aspiration for young people.”

Posted on December 19, 2017 .