Pacific Valley School Wins Golden Bell Award

A tiny one-school district with 25 students proves that passion for education and compassion for all living things is an award winning combination.

Set in Big Sur, where the spectacular Pacific coastline meets majestic redwoods, Pacific Valley School wins top honors from the California School Boards Association for its “Ambassadors for the Arts and Environment Program.” For its innovative student-led entry in the Association’s annual Golden Bell Awards Program, the District receives the first annual California School Boards Association “Going Green!” scholarship.

“Ambassadors for the Arts and Environment” is recognized for its dedication to building student-led, environmentally friendly curricula and community outreach. The program was submitted in the Sustainable, Renewable, Energy and Resource Efficient Programs category of the Golden Bell Awards, a long-standing statewide recognition program that identifies and celebrates excellent public education programs across all areas of instruction and leadership.


Designed to accelerate student learning about eco-friendly concepts through peer-based instruction, “Ambassadors for the Arts and Environment” encourages students in the Pacific Valley School to explore environmental concepts through art and cross-curricular community service outreach projects. Students in the program reach out to the numerous underserved communities in the surrounding area to help build environmental awareness among the region’s youth.

The goal of “Ambassadors for the Arts and Environment” is “…to expand and transfer awareness of the potential value of environmental stewardship, identify ways to harness these phenomena through the arts and multiple curricula… and underscore the lessons with a community service component to spread the wealth of these powerful learning experiences to students in the surrounding rural and underserved districts.”

Recipient of the 2005 Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award, the program includes a variety of lessons. Two examples are outlined below.

Full Circle
Teams of students are trained in and pass on to others special art techniques and key environmental stewardship-related concepts, such as creating beautiful handmade paper recycled from classroom waste paper, painted in watercolor and embedded with seeds to address the concept of a completely-sustainable resources loop. Through this concept, the recycled art can be planted in the ground, allowing the seeds to grow back into trees from which paper originates.

Power Up
With support from a PG&E “Bright Ideas” grant, the school’s Gifted and Talented Program receives hands-on, project-based learning by tapping renewable, non-depletive energy from the sun. They build model solar-powered cars and even hold a “Solar Car-O-Rama” with model car shows and drag races.

“One Who Teaches Learns”
The “Ambassadors” invite neighboring districts and deliver student-led programs and activities to all students, including those with special needs. Their winning application describes how a child with severe autism appeared unable to participate in the project, retreated to a corner, crying, but was ultimately engaged and, with a paintbrush in hand and smile on his face, designed brilliant colors on a piece of freshly recycled handmade paper. The students pride themselves on developing ways to express and communicate their discoveries to others through the arts and their own personal peer teaching styles.

Congratulations, Pacific Valley School, teachers, and students. You are indeed the Gem of the South Coast!

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