Climate Change Champions explores causes and solutions to global climate change through an educational game for students. Footprints in the Sand features interactive web-based projects, Socratic seminars, collaborative groups and community outreach to encourage students to see beyond their own footprint. Mirror Mirror engages students to question and evaluate the choices and mistakes they’ve made, ultimately molding their future selves.

These are among more than a dozen projects created by teachers from throughout Ventura County who received $10,000 in IMPACT II grants for developing innovative lessons for their students. IMPACT II is a curriculum sharing and recognition program for educators in kindergarten through grade 12 in all subject areas. Since 1993, Ventura County educators have received $388,500 in sponsor-funded grants.

The purpose of the program — which is a partnership between the Ventura County Office of Education and community sponsors including Amgen Foundation and SAGE Publications, Inc. — is to spread excellent teaching ideas throughout Ventura County. IMPACT II does this by partnering with local businesses and organizations to provide $500 individual and $750 team grants to educators for unique, original and innovative curriculum that has been classroom tested.

Overcoming bias and creating real-world connections

Aliza Lederman and Danna Lomax, who teach seventh grade at Anacapa Middle School in Ventura, engaged students to explore the question: How can I overcome my implicit bias?

In this unit, entitled Walking Away from Implicit Bias, students studied Medieval Africa and the spread of Islam, read the novel A Long Walk to Water and wrote formal emails in support of Salva Dut’s organization, Water for South Sudan, a nonprofit with a mission to create access to and monitor safe drinking water for communities located in remote rural areas of South Sudan.

Students also undertook a long walk in order to empathize with the experiences of the Lost Boys of Sudan.

For Project Understanding: Little Buddy Heroes, teachers Kathy Elliott and Alyssa Soles at Pacific High School formed a partnership with Douglas Penfield Elementary and Easter Seals Preschool, where students served as teacher’s assistants in classrooms. A primary goal was to find a way to re-engage and connect students to their learning, many of whom have poor attendance and struggle in school, while challenging students to serve as role models to their “little buddies,” as well as perform in a real-world career setting.

The Changing Night Sky

For thousands of years, humans have looked up to the night sky with a curious and contemplative mind: How did we get here? Are we alone in this universe or could there be life on some unknown planet in a distant galaxy? Questions such as these spark curiosity and excitement among students as they think about their place in the universe and what lies beyond their own small celestial area code, according to Christina Sandbach, a teacher at Ventura Charter School.

Her project, Constellations and the Changing Night Sky, integrated science, art and literacy. Students applied core science ideas while practicing research skills and informational writing.

Energy to Power the World

In order to inspire the generation of tomorrow to help our planet and make the world we live in a better place, students need to understand the basics of energy consumption, what options are currently used and why, and what new innovations and technology are available today, said Heather Farrell, a teacher at Thousand Oaks High School.

“Students need to see that there is hope and that there are people already fighting the battle for a cleaner and greener world so that they, too, can push forward and make a difference,” said Farrell, of Simi Valley.

To that end, Energy to Power the World for grades 10, 11 and 12, is focused on renewable energy sources, and is taught toward the end of the year once students have a solid foundation in environmental science. It also follows the non-renewable resources unit “in hopes to bring the students out of the doom and gloom of fossil fuels and into the light of innovation and progress within the green energy movement,” Farrell said.

The Energy Project

“Turn off the lights! You’re wasting energy.” “You can’t play on my phone, the energy is low.” “You have to eat your breakfast so you’ll have energy.” Children are constantly hearing messages about energy — its function, the need to be mindful of conserving it, the costs associated with it — but do they, or even most adults, really understand energy? What it is, what forms it takes, why it should be used responsibly, and how it matters to the health of our planet?

Do most really understand energy? What it is, what forms it takes, why it should be used responsibly, and how it matters to the health of our planet?
These questions laid the foundation for The Energy Project, created by Ventura Charter School teachers Jessica Granados, Bethany Ellis, Emily Noel and Christina Sandbach.

These questions laid the foundation for The Energy Project, created by Ventura Charter School teachers Jessica Granados, Bethany Ellis, Emily Noel and Christina Sandbach.

This team believes that before we can expect children to protect and advocate for responsible energy usage and sourcing, they must first understand what energy is and how it works.

To guide students through this discovery, the team created the question: “How can we investigate like scientists to understand energy and show how it works?” The project was organized into five case studies that would unpack this driving question into the tangible work and skills that would bring learning to life. The case studies explored questions including “what is energy?” in which students identified and described at least four forms of energy; “how can energy be stored as height?” in which they differentiated between kinetic and potential energy; and “how is energy converted from one type to another?” in which they explained how energy transfers from one place to another.


The Kidtopia project, created by Lisa Sage, a teacher at Camarillo Academy of Progressive Education, involved children in grades 1st through 8th learning about different jobs from folks in the community. Here they are pictured learning how to arrange flowers.

Lisa Sage’s inspiration for Kidtopia occurred while she was on a family vacation in London and experienced Kidzania, an interactive city made for children that combines inspiration, fun and learning through realistic role-play.

Kidtopia, which targets pre-K to grade eight, was a new format for the typical career day in schools, said Sage, of Camarillo, a kindergarten teacher at Camarillo Academy of Progressive Education. “For an hour-and-a-half, we let all the students — kindergarten through eighth — choose which careers to try out and work at within the mini town we had created in campus.”

This effort involved many volunteers from the community, and each presenter prepared a five-minute talk about his or her job and an activity related to some aspect of his or her career, such as a computer engineer who let students practice dismantling and reassembling an iPad or a forensic scientist who showed youngsters how to develop their own fingerprint. In other activities, a journalist gave students an assignment in which they interviewed different people on campus and wrote a news article for the school newspaper, and a Trader Joe’s employee who had them practice bagging groceries.

“For the first time, I saw kids running to presentations and excited about jobs and careers, because it was hands-on; the learning was real,” Sage said. “Students talked about the experience for months and some of the things learned were bigger than my original objectives.” 

One student reported that she learned “that you don’t always get what you want in life since one of the presentations was full and she had to go to another room.” Another student learned that pediatric nurses had to change diapers, and therefore that wasn’t the career for her.

“Most students wished that they had had more time to try out more careers,” Sage said.

Moment of Peace 

For the Moment of Peace project for grades two, three and four, Emily Noel and Kim “Flow” Hansmeier wanted to build student’s self-love, confidence and kindness so that they could then further spread that kindness towards others. In other words, the students worked on their inner peace so that they could spread peace to others.

The children did this through several activities, including engaging in a creative art project, Peaceful Me, in which they made self-portraits of their peaceful selves using mixed media. They also created Self-Love and Confidence books that included affirmations written by hand about themselves, such as “I’m beautiful,” “I’m always happy,” “My family loves me,” and “I’m smart.” They also worked on self-affirmations using flashcards, in which they wrote down a negative thought they had about themselves and ripped it up; then wrote the opposite thought on a new card that they taped into their cubbies.

“Kindness and peace is needed in our world,” said Noel of Ventura, who teaches with Hansmeier at Ventura Charter School. “We have a unique and incredible job where we can help teach students — and learn from students — and we wanted to use this opportunity to provide students with ways that they can communicate peacefully with themselves as well as others.”

The Next Big Game

During her students’ study of the history of the Hebrews/Israelites, Jennifer Dobbie had students develop a video game story board based on the history of the Hebrews under the pretense that they were video game developers and this was a chance for them to compete for a contract. Students also researched the process that game developers go through to get a game development contract.  

“Having to compete with their fast-paced, two-minute video world necessitates that teachers find creative ways to connect with students; this was my overall purpose behind this lesson,” said Dobbie, of Ventura, a teacher at Isbell Middle School in Santa Paula.

“Once students knew their end result was to develop a video game, their interest level in the Hebrews was off the charts,” she recalled. “They quickly realized the Hebrews were interesting, inspiring people of the past who were determined and never gave up, a character trait that is hard to find in today’s world.”

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

During the middle of the project Won’t You Be My Neighbor? A Project to Renew and Connect Our Community, the Thomas Fire and Montecito mudslide occurred, putting it on hold for Ventura Charter School teachers Holly Johnson and Laura Bingham.

At first, they worried that their project had lost momentum. Instead, these events turned the focus into a real-life opportunity for students to experience how a community can come together for the greater good.

Through social media, they connected with a kindergarten class from a school across the country who was involved in their own project on the impact of local fires on a community. A teacher reached out and asked to collaborate with Johnson’s and Bingham’s classes to gather information for their project. They then began connecting with each other through Google Hangout, and the kindergarteners from the other school were able to ask questions of the Ventura students about their experience in the Thomas Fire.

This proved to be “a healing process” for students who had lived through the fire. They learned that there were many community helpers who came to the rescue of so many people, and although the fire was scary for many of them, there were so many helpers involved in keeping them safe.