This the "Greenest" School
Spyrock School is a
satellite school of Laytonville Unified School District, located in a
very remote area of northern Mendocino County; approximately 10 miles
north of Laytonville at an elevation of 3,100 feet. The
school serves students from Kindergarten through 6th grades who live in
this remote area, the proverbial "one room schoolhouse". Prior to
the school's establishment, students were driven by their parents over
steep, unpaved gravel road to the bottom of the
hill where they met the schoolbus which took them to the
elementary school in Laytonville. Some of these very young
students spent more than 2 hours a day in vehicles going to and from
With lots of support
from parents in the local community and a donation
of land, the school was founded in 1990 by scraping off a flat spot and
installing two portable classrooms. The site is very challenging
due to it's mountaintop exposure, wind & sun, and lack of
water. The modular trailer construction of the classrooms does
not facilitate energy efficiency. What this school has going for
it is lots of energy, enthusiasm and support from parents, the local
community and the school staff. The setting is breathtaking at
any season, in any weather; a 360 degree view of sky, mountains, more
mountains and the valley opening up below the school in almost every
direction. The accompanying pictures only hint at what a gorgeous
backdrop the North Coast Range provides for this school.
Most of the other projects on this tour have alternative energy behind
the scenes, part of the unseen infrastructure. What makes this
school really "green" is the broad scope of activities, and the way
they have been integrated into the curriculum and the lifestyle of the
school. There seems to be a strong emphasis on project-based
learning in which students of all ages are active participants, rather
than just passive consumers. Also impressive is the way in which
science, math, language, art, handicrafts and practical homestead
skills are applied in the accomplishment of these projects.
One huge change over the years has been the literal greening of this
formerly barren hilltop. Almost all of the trees on the site have
been planted since the school was founded, and helping them to survive
and become established has been a challenge due to the limited water
supply. Two interesting techniques are shown below:
New plantings are shown surrounding broad swales which were surveyed
and dug by students. The swales follow the hill's contours to
intercept and channel runoff from the hillside and gather it into the
subsoil. This moisture can make the difference in helping the
trees survive the long, hot and dry summers. The trees are
esthetically pleasing but also function as windbreaks.
Rainwater is also harvested from the rooftops of the classroom
buildings. In addition to providing water for the gardens and
trees, there are math and science applications as well.
Gardening is an important activity, usually in
confined areas such as raised beds and planters. Note the use of
mulch and shade from the building to reduce water use and moderate the
potential effects of too much sun.
The greenhouse, below incorporates several interesting elements:
rainwater collection, a solar panel which powers a ventilation fan
during the summer, planters on the south wall for summer shading, and
an adjacent storage building. Inside, a variety of plantings and
a mini-pond with some duckweed.
As you might expect, food and garden waste is composted to fertilize
and improve the soil in garden beds. It also provides a basis for
math and science lessons.
Recycling is also a part of the school routine, necessary as well as
school, or community, is the product of many hands. For the last
five years, Spyrock School's instructor and guiding spirit has been Tim
Henry. His accomplishments at the school have been incremental,
continuous and many. While teaching the School's students, he has
also been building a sustainable educational community.
Laytonville Unified and the Spyrock community are lucky to have him.