American Canyon, CA -- This town is in Napa County, but it's a far cry from the high-priced vineyards and estates to the north. Only recently incorporated, American Canyon sits just across the county line from blue-collar Vallejo, and was historically an unincorporated, low-income community that was the favorite location for facilities and problems the rest of the Napa County didn't want to deal with. After two failed efforts, the community incorporated in 1992 and rapidly developed a remarkable culture of civic engagement and participation.
Tired of bussing their high-school students to distant schools in the northern part of Napa County, American Canyon decided to pass a bond-act and build itself a high school -- but what a high school! Completed three years ago, American Canyon High School is the first in the country to be certified as a "green school" by the Collaborative for High Performance School (CHPS) This November it dedicated its new 1-megawatt solar system, which will save the school district $17 million over the next 25 years and keep 780,000 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the air each year.
So it's the perfect place for the Blue-Green Alliance to deliver the message that the time for America to invest in its schools is now. Schools should be places where students can learn, where young people can grow, and where they can be proud. Sadly, too many American schools have decayed to the point where the school itself is a barrier to all three of these goals. But what a difference in feeling this school has -- I tell the audience "I wish I had gone to this school." It simply feels different than a typical American high school -- less tense, less frenzied, more a community -- it's a happier place. And it's had an impact. American Canyon has now become a magnet -- property values are rising here even as they are falling everywhere else, because people want to get into this school district for their children. And gathered at the school is the coalition of hope -- environmentalists, teachers, students, labor union leaders, workers who built the school, local officials, and representatives of the state of California.
But my final message is simple. In five years, my hope is that the American Canyon is no longer America's greenest school -- I hope it is simply one of hundreds, a very typical experience for American children.
Follow Carl Pope on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CarlPope