Biking the California Coast

 In Environmental Science Grant Program, grantmaking, guest post, philanthropy, PVF News, teacher grants

Guest Post by Clare Green, Life Academy High School of Health and Bioscience

Early environmental education is an important aspect for creating environmentally conscious adults, but it is often neglected in underfunded public schools. PVF’s Environmental Science Resource Grant Program aims to address this by making our popular immediate response teacher grants available for environmental and conservation-focused projects in and out of classrooms throughout the Bay Area.

Clare Green, a teacher at Life Academy of Health and Bioscience in Oakland, has utilized environmental science resource grants over the years to take female and non-binary high school students on a 5-day bike-packing trip across 180 miles of the California coast, meeting with environmental groups and rangers along the way. Below is a guest post from Clare on the experience:

Imagine: 16 teenage girls and gender-expansive youth, dressed in neon yellow safety vests, helmets, and embarrassingly padded shorts, winding their way on bikes down the California coast.  Three years ago, in our first year back from the pandemic, I couldn’t see myself doing this five-day, four-night bikepacking trip, let alone see how I would convince a group of teenagers to risk physical comfort and cleanliness, and, worst of all, cell phone service, to join this class.  This year, at our first class meeting, 16 students, mostly 9th graders shared that they were ready and excited for the challenge!

Life Academy’s mission is that we aim to “dramatically interrupt patterns of injustice and inequity for underserved communities in Oakland.”  We believe that this includes providing students unique opportunities to interact with the world outside the classroom.  To support this goal, for the last weeks of the school year, each teacher abandons traditional instruction in order to facilitate a “post-session.”  Students spend the time backpacking through the Sierras, learning to be photographers, muralists, and, in our case, cyclists.

We are lucky enough to partner with the California Field School, an amazing nonprofit organization that leads young people on these excursions throughout the year.  We met with the folks from CFS to plan for a week of training rides before the big trip.  Students, some of whom haven’t ridden a bike in years, learn how to ride safely in traffic, how to use their gears to get up the steep Oakland Hills, and we help them connect this learning to the bigger ideas of making transportation more just and better for the environment.  This first week is all about building confidence, building safety skills, and building our community of riders.


The following Monday, we start early!  We load camping gear into our support vehicle and the students begin their ride!  We average about 30 miles a day, cycling along portions of Highway 1 and through the farmlands just east of the freeway.  As you can imagine, there isn’t a single section of our ride that doesn’t include a spectacular view!


Last year, we rode past fields of poppies and saw sea lions from the cliffs. We stopped to buy fresh-picked strawberries and ice cream.  The students camp and cook each day, taking turns preparing dinner, sandwiches for the next day’s ride, and healthy breakfasts.  In the evenings, we build campfires, tell scary stories, and have dance parties.  

If all this sounds idyllic, you’re getting the picture.  I’ve seen students take some really nasty falls and get back up to keep going.  I saw a friendship collapse and then repair over the course of one very long day of riding (and some coaching on how to apologize).  And I saw young people get truly vulnerable with each other as we debriefed the experience and what it meant for us.  I am forever grateful for the organizations like Philanthropic Ventures Foundation and the California Field School for making this possible each year and, of course, for the students who take such a huge risk with their bodies and hearts.

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