Is This the "Greenest" School
in California?

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 school.

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 educational.


Any 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.

7/28/08;  dk