Community School Addresses Inequality and Climate Action Through New Education Model
By Robert Simmons
As a climate action campus, MTM will seamlessly link indoor and outdoor experimental and experiential learning; it will also blend the five components of the STEAM curriculum into a more interdisciplinary format. Through this, MTM believes students will achieve a holistic understanding of the issues facing them locally and globally.
The MTM Earth Lab
The Earth Lab is an outdoor learning space where Millennial Tech students will be able to engage in hands-on, experiential STEAM learning throughout the school day. The Earth Lab will also be open to other feeder schools, to facilitate after-school and weekend learning programs. The interconnection between climate and social justice will be a thread that runs through all subjects in the MTM curriculum, to lean students toward more meaningful and purposeful action within their communities.
Scheduled to be built in 2025, the Climate Action Makers Lab is an innovative STEAM building that will serve as the literal transition point between the school’s common buildings and the outdoor MTM Earth Lab, and will house design and fabrication tools, digital technologies, solar energy and gardening stations—all the tools necessary to empower students to research like scientists, develop like innovators, be intuitive like ecologists, reason like philosophers, and interpret like artists.
Much credit for this final transition goes to the teachers, the new principal of MTM, Nicola Labas, and the community members, who all came to realize that MTM needed to be reimagined after COVID. Working alongside the teachers, Millennial Tech has transformed from a ‘bell schedule’ to a ‘hybrid block schedule’, which will include built-in daily STEAM Lab time as well as a ‘Wellness Wheel’, where each student is provided with the resources necessary to address trauma, promote well-being, and elevate learning.
Backed by educational, psychological, and medical research, the Wellness Wheel introduces a growth-focused framework for supporting students’ cognitive, social, and emotional needs. This model, along with a new 6th grade academy and Community School sets the stage for MTM to be the model for schools of the future.
Millennial Tech Middle (MTM) & Their Partners
Principle Labas has also served as a liaison between the District and MTM’s partners. Groundwork San Diego (a subdivision of non-profit environmental enhancement organization Groundwork USA) literally laid the groundwork for this project 15 years ago (2007), with its mission to restore the damaged wetlands and uplands around the Chollas Creek watershed, a 32-square mile natural waterway which serves as the perfect metaphor for the underserved communities in its path.
As the Principal of MTM, I am thrilled to see the school transform to be the next school of the future. The key to these changes lies in the relationships that have been built with the teaching staff, the community and the partners that will support our transformation. Building a shared vision with trust is at the heart of our work together. We all have something to give, and we all know that change must take place especially after a pandemic. Aside from learning about climate action, I have a strong desire to promote a resilience-centered school that also promotes healing and higher levels of wellness and learning. The Earth Lab Climate Action Park will be the catalyst to allow MTM students to be the first Climate action leaders in San Diego. When students learn to take care of the world, their community and the environment, they are essentially learning how to take care of themselves.Nicola Labas – Principal
Upon this foundation, a vision began to form. UC San Diego entered the picture in 2012; Groundwork SD received a land grant from the San Diego Unified School District, and slowly, a four-acre parcel was transformed into the educationally transformative outdoor space now known as Earth Lab. A generous grant from the Surdna Foundation in 2016 allowed for a more ambitious design, prompting collaboration from all corners of the community. The final piece was added when the San Diego Unified School District recently approved $10 million in funding, to tie the educational fates of MTM and Earth Lab inexorably together.
As the Director of Urban Research at the Center on Global Justice, Teddy Cruz (who is also a UCSD professor of Public Culture and Urbanization, as well as a celebrated architect and cultural visionary) uploaded his extensive knowledge of physical, cultural and civic infrastructure into what he hopes will become the final iteration of the Makers Lab and Earth Lab learning community station.