California Educator

August/September 2023

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S E R G I O D E A L B A was at Home Depot recently when a former student — now 32 years old — ran up to him. "'Mr. de Alba!'" he recalls her saying. "'How is our garden? Are my handprints still there?'" She was referring to what is now one of 16 ecosys- tem-themed gardens on the grounds of R.M. Miano Elementary School in Los Banos, where de Alba teaches and has overseen an expansive garden project researched, designed, planted and maintained by students. Participating students leave handprints in surrounding cement and get their names memorialized on a plaque. "For the past 22 years she had remembered the garden," says de Alba, who conceived the project and uses the gar- dens to teach subjects including environmental science, agriculture, economics, math and engineering as well as to bring students and families together. " That's my biggest motivation — I want these kids to see their school as their own." De Alba has a long list of recognitions for his innovative approaches to learning — the most recent including the 2023 Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Edu- cators, administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in partnership with the White House Council on Environmental Quality. He also just won a CTA Institute for Teaching 2023-24 grant — his second — that builds on Mia- no's garden project to focus on climate change and other environmental issues, money management while running an on-site plant nursery business, and deepening learning around STEM and art. A member of Los Banos Teachers Association, de Alba teaches mostly 4th-6th grades and says his lessons are grounded in social studies and science. "If you use whatever you're most passionate about it comes out in the lesson — so for me math, language arts, everything goes through science and social studies." The gardens, of course, teach much more than academics. In addition to serving as a hub for student-parent engage- ment and a business operation where students market and sell plants to the community, they 're a showcase for student creativity. One garden designed by a 6th " I grew up in same type of environment and conditions as my students. I want to give them every opportunity to get to the next level, that's how I see my role as an educator." — SERGIO DE ALBA, Los Banos Teachers Association Sergio de Alba's lessons open worlds beyond his Los Banos elementary school A N D S T U D E N T S 13 A U G U S T / S E P T E M B E R 2 0 2 3 Spotlight

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