Green Horizons: Celebrating the Second COE Fellowship Cohort Graduation

We are thrilled to announce the successful completion of the second CAELI COE Fellowship cohort, comprising fourteen fellows from six county offices of education. This year marks another milestone in the journey of CAELI’s County Office of Education Innovation Hub to establish an environmental literacy coordinator in all fifty-eight county offices of education. At this time, seven COEs have a coordinator with the official Environmental Literacy Coordinator title, over fifty percent of the county offices are represented in our monthly COE Community of Practice (CoP) meetings, and more than thirty percent of COEs are hosting their own microsites on the CAELI Partner Portal. This initiative continues to gain momentum, and we are so proud of this cohort for their leadership in catalyzing change in their county regions. 

The CAELI COE Fellowship provides support for a deep dive into tools and strategies for leading high-impact environmental literacy and sustainability initiatives across a county’s school communities. Last year, eleven counties participated in the fellowship, and we’re proud to welcome three new counties this year, with many fellows returning for a second term. Notably, all three of the most recently hired full-time County Office of Education environmental literacy staff have been part of our fellowship: Kristine Stepping of San Joaquin COE, Summer Belloni of Solano COE, and Jenn Mutch of Santa Clara COE. 

photo of COE Fellowship graduates standing in a meeting room
2023–24 COE fellows and leaders at the kickoff retreat. Fellows are from Alameda, San Joaquin, Santa Clara, Mendocino, Orange, San Bernardino, and Solano counties.

The fellowship began in August 2023 with a kickoff retreat at Santa Clara County’s Walden West Outdoor School. The retreat provided an important foundation for the program for content knowledge and skill development, as well as the opportunity to network and build community. Following the retreat, the cohort convened monthly to focus on different topics and themes in the COE Environmental Literacy Initiative Leadership Toolkit. These sessions facilitated the sharing of inspiring examples, troubleshooting of leadership challenges, and exchanging of resources. Returning fellow Maia Steward of Mendocino County reflects, “This program is a true fellowship because I can think deeply and design initiatives with colleagues from across the state.” Holly Steele of Orange County emphasizes the importance of collaboration, stating, “Leading systemic change is a team effort and those who are working together must have a common language for doing the work. It also requires a multifaceted approach that requires work across different components of the system—Campus, Curriculum, Culture, and Community—and different scales of the system, including the classroom, district, COE, and the community at large.”

COE fellowship team collaborating in a school classroom
Orange County Department of Education fellowship team mapping their systems.

At the end of the program, COE Fellowship leaders Amity Sandage (Santa Cruz COE), and Andra Yeghoian (Ten Strands) were thrilled to see the fellows showcase their plans at the capstone presentations showcase. Amity shared this sentiment in the following reflection, “The 2023–24 fellows did an excellent job applying their learning from the fellowship to the context and goals in their own positions—at the final session it was exciting to hear their actionable plans for growing environmental literacy and sustainability efforts at their COEs.” Andra furthered that sentiment in her reflection, “Running this program for a second cohort solidified that the capacity building work we are doing through CAELI is really critical to building momentum for environmental and climate action in California’s TK–12 schools across multiple county regions. I am so grateful to the many leaders for showing up and working hard to develop and implement high-impact initiatives that are truly catalyzing transformational change at the local level.”

A Breadth of Fresh Air: Expanding Environmental Programs

Below are a few examples showcasing the breadth of work the CAELI COE Fellows are undertaking and also planning for the near future.

Solano COE Fellow Summer Belloni (environmental literacy program manager) and Jas Bains Wright (coordinator of full-service community schools partnerships and initiatives) are planning a professional learning series for 2024–25 that focuses on integrating outdoor learning and environmental literacy within academic content areas such as mathematics, language, and art. This partnership between the District and School Support team and the Early Learning team aims to enhance the P–3 Continuum through a comprehensive approach, including conference sessions, seasonal community of practice conversations, and immersive outdoor activities. This series offers a chance to collaborate within the county office, along with districts and community partners, to empower educators to incorporate nature into their teaching repertoire and ignite curiosity in students.

A four-member team from the Orange County Department of Education (OCDE) participated in the fellowship and moved along a variety of projects. Kicking off with a convening in partnership with CAELI District Innovation Hub Climate Literacy Exchange on May 10, they are working to co-construct an environmental literacy CoP across the Orange County community. On the facilities side, fellows have opted into a year-long self-directed project focused on exploring and recommending greener practices for OCDE operations including waste reduction and green event planning guidelines. 

Monica Dennis, STEAM and expanded learning program manager of Alameda COE in Region four has launched a regional recognition program that encourages expanded learning students and staff to commit to actions that benefit the environment of their campus community. Dennis will provide ongoing support to those who apply and she hopes the banner will hopefully spark conversations with others about how to build a larger green community.

Mendocino COE’s Maia Steward explained, “The advantage of participating in a fellowship such as this for two years is that some ideas take time to absorb and process. In the first year of the fellowship, I was able to launch several initiatives and provide a proof of concept. In the second year, I have been able to make those initiatives systemic and begin to expand access points for new initiatives to be built within existing systems.“  She is most excited that, “Our Senior Naturalist Program is expanding to run as a full year program! We are bringing K–12 students back to Angelo Coastal Preserve for the first time in decades.”

Through this program it became clear that Fellows have developed a shared understanding of the multi-dimensional and sustained leadership necessary for these types of initiatives. Another fellow spoke for many COEs when they said, “At this point, the most significant support needed is from leadership within our own organization.” CAELI is committed to supporting this growth of leadership across counties and regions and will be offering the COE Fellowship in 2024–25 to a third cohort. Click here for information on session content and here to submit an application. All county office of education staff from any department are welcome and teams are encouraged!

photo of CEO fellows gathering in a field
Amity Sandage leading the opening circle at the summer kickoff retreat