On May 30 officials from the United States Environmental Protection Agency joined students, staff and faculty at Miano Elementary School in Los Banos to recognize teacher Sergio de Alba as a 2023 Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators winner.

EPA Pacific Southwest Administrator Martha Guzman presented the award to de Alba, met with students and faculty, and toured the school’s gardens.

“Mr. de Alba’s approach to environmentalism,” Guzman said, “which incorporates real world experience and commitment to community, has both empowered his students to become environmental stewards and helped them gain valuable business skills such as project management, marketing know-how and experience developing budgets for the school’s nursery.

“The work he has done,” Guzmnan added, “will undoubtedly inspire the next generation to protect the environment and give them the practical tools to bring meaningful change.”

De Alba combined his passions for teaching, sustainability and concern over California’s water crisis with the hope to transform student learning from rote-based lessons into courses that lead with experience.

Guided by the agricultural roots of his town, de Alba created an education program centered on community values, and his centerpiece was the creation of his school’s new ecosystem-themed gardens.

He had his students design 16 gardens to represent different ecosystems and the local agricultural presence of the school’s community. For the past 22 years, he has maintained these gardens for ongoing class lessons.

Not only do these gardens beautify the campus, but they also serve as the building blocks for students inspired to contribute to a sustainable future. Sergio de Alba, Guzman said, is proof of this methodology, The knowledge he imparts to his students through these garden programs has also been fundamental in his own pursuits, and now one of his lessons on the California drought will be available online from the United States Geological Survey.

Additionally, de Alba incorporates his love for travel with environmental education. He travels across the nation and brings back lessons on sustainability topics beyond the borders of Los Banos.

After traveling to 35 states and collaborating with dedicated USGS scientists, de Alba has a repertoire of interviews, lessons learned and photographs of the natural world in all its glory. He uses these materials to highlight nature’s benefits and vulnerabilities, encouraging students to visit and protect the living world around them.

Much of de Alba’s work has the added benefit of bringing the Los Banos community together. His organic garden program has drawn the attention of parents and community members, who attend maintenance sessions in the gardens.

He has also since created the Sunrise Nursery, a business component of his gardening that has raised money while promoting drought-tolerant plants. Students participate by making advertisements, recording video commercials and developing budgets and prices for the nursery’s products.

Sunrise Nursery not only inspires the next generation of environmental stewards, but also gives them the practical tools they need to bring meaningful change.

De Alba’s approach to environmentalism—one that incorporates experience and community—has allowed students to realize that their decisions make a difference in this world and that they have more influence than they realize.

His sense of empowerment, fueled by his own research, travels, and curriculum, is contributing to a healthier, more motivated Miano Elementary School.

Each year, the US EPA recognizes national winners of the Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators.

DeAlba, third from right, poses for a photo, from left to right, with Los Banos School Board President, Anthony Parreira, Martha Guzman, Congress Duarte Field Representative, Christian Santos, Los Banos School Board Trustee Marlene Smith and Miano Elementary School Principal, Zelda Dias-Harper. Gene Lieb/The Express
One of many flowering plants in the school gardens. Gene Lieb/The Express

The Westside Express