Sonoma’s ‘I Choose’ banners upcycled

Three summers ago at the ReMake Education Summit in Santa Rosa, Sonoma County entrepreneur Steffen Kuehr spoke about his upcycling company’s efforts to repurpose fabrics fated for the junkyard. The summit also featured a presentation about the ways that high school students can use “design thinking” to problem solve on their campuses.

A kind of eco-friendly, compact fluorescent light bulb went off in the head of attendee Jacqueline Levy, who was teaching AP environmental science at Sonoma Valley High School. She was inspired to transport these conversations across Sonoma County to her school and students in the hopes of pairing creativity with conservation.

Fast forward to now, and Levy just finished leading a partnership between SVHS, the Sonoma Education Foundation and Sonoma-USA that, admittedly, may not save Mother Earth, but has nonetheless left a green footprint – or “faceprint,” perhaps – on Sonoma. Especially inside its grocery stores.

Levy had noticed the new “I Choose” banners around campus each fall – the district’s annual marketing campaign depicting student spirit for SVHS – and wondered what became of the old ones. She contacted Laura Stanfield, one of the members of the “I Choose” team and Stanfield told her they were just storing the old banners, not sure what to do with them.

Levy found an online course produced by Stanford University about “design thinking” that could be done in a 90-minute class period and she gave her students an overview of the design-thinking process.

“Knowing about the old banners, having a contact that could fabricate the bags... I knew there was a possibility of upcycling the old banners into bags that the students could design,” said Levy. Unlike the term recycle, “upcycling” intends to reinvent materials better than before.

Levy began by giving her students an “upcycling challenge” in which they worked in teams to create usable objects out of “junk.”

The following fall, Levy contacted Sallie Kyle-Moore of the Sonoma Education Foundation to find out if they would be willing to sell or auction the bags at their fundraising events.

“She said yes and this upcycling project began to take shape,” said Levy.

Although the project required some logistical help from adults, Levy wanted to involve her students as much as possible throughout the process, from design to business, to the nitty gritty of it: cleaning the old banners.

“I wanted my environmental science students to learn about for-profit businesses that are responsible stewards of the Earth, so I asked [Kuehr] to speak to my class about what he does,” said Levy. “I am always looking for ways to connect students with science, and (let them) understand how it is important to their lives.”

Last year, Levy introduced the Stanford design thinking lesson to her class and assigned a second upcycling challenge geared specifically toward the design of the banners. Students presented their ideas to Kuehr, who served on a panel of judges that evaluated the students’ prototypes.

“All the students did a good job, yet one design, for a grocery bag, stood out,” she said.

It is because of creative innovations like these that Levy views the younger generations as our next hope.

“Young people, like the rest of us, want to have a future that includes clean air, clean water and biodiversity,” she said. “Awareness is the first step in fixing any problem, knowing its existence and how to solve it. Equally important is the knowledge of what we can each do to help, not to become overwhelmed by the challenges.”

Levy added that giving young people opportunities to use their creativity and upcycle things will give them a new way to look at “trash” and might inspire them to create less of it.

“Humans have more power now to change the Earth than ever before, the choices we make matter,” she said. “We need to evaluate our value system as a society and realize that quality of life includes much more than the material things we possess, such as good health, stable communities, strong families and a diverse and thriving natural world.”

The Sonoma Education Foundation provided the funds to manufacture the bags at Kuehr’s manufacturing subsidiary, Sonoma-USA. Kyle-Moore and Stanfield determined pricing and the direction of marketing and, with production complete, contacted the parents whose children appear on the banners-turned-bags. According to Levy, most of the inventory sold to the parents before the week ended. Bags that are left over, including those featuring teachers, will be for sale at the annual Sonoma Valley High School Boosters’ Crab Feed fundraiser in February. The bags range in price from $12 to $30.

“The ‘I Choose’ bags are ideal for parents, alumni, teachers, coaches and family members of Sonoma Dragons or basically anyone who wants to display their Dragon pride,” said Kyle-Moore.

Proceeds will cover the upcycling costs and extra funds support the high school’s environmental science program.

Levy left the school district at the end of last year to take a new job with the Bouverie Preserve and, as a result, AP Environmental Science isn’t being offered at SVHS in the 2018-2019 school year.

Due to budget concerns, the current “I Choose” banners were not replaced this year but, instead, last year’s banners were recycled and can still be seen all over town outside Sonoma stores and businesses.

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