Green Our Planet’s May 2021 Newsletter

Co-CEO Ciara Byrne Presents New Green Our Planet STEM Initiative to President Obama

Ciara Byrne, Co-CEO and Co-Founder of Green Our Planet, along with the other 2019 Obama Fellows, recently met with President Obama on a Zoom call. Check out the video here.  The call was to celebrate the journey the Fellows had taken over the past 2 years together as leaders helping to bring positive change to their communities.  Ciara was one of only two of the twenty Fellows selected to make a presentation to President Obama about the work Green Our Planet is doing in partnership with Obama Fellow, Joseph Kunkel.  Joseph, a citizen of the Northern Cheyenne Nation, is the Director of MASS Design’s Sustainable Native Communities Design Lab based in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  The project in New Mexico involves a cadre of teachers from Native American communities, as well as Latino and white communities working together to create a cultural framework for the Green Our Planet Hydroponics STEM Curriculum. This framework will allow students from diverse backgrounds to understand the relevance science, technology, engineering and math subjects have for them, their families and their communities.   In 2019, Ciara was selected along with 19 other nonprofit leaders from around the world from 5,000 applications to be an Obama Fellow.  During the past two years, the Obama Fellows have worked together to figure out ways to scale their organizations and to lead their teams to be positive forces on the planet.

CCSD Teachers Give Green Our Planet’s Virtual Academy a 90% Rating!

Virtual Academy Banner

The verdict is in!  When schools went virtual in March 2020, the Green Our Planet team  brainstormed about the best way to serve schools during the pandemic and the Green Our Planet Virtual Academy was born. The Virtual Academy provides standards-aligned STEM, nutrition and conservation video lessons taught by Green Our Planet horticulturists, chef-nutritionists and hydroponics experts. Over the course of the last year, the Green Our Planet Virtual Academy has blossomed from a quick fix during COVID to a permanent feature of Green Our Planet’s programming. We wanted to find out what kind of impact the Virtual Academy has on students, so we worked with BLR Media Research Consulting to capture teachers’ feedback on the Virtual Academy’s lessons. In a recent survey, CCSD teachers were asked how they would rate the lessons on a 1-10 scale. The result? The Virtual Academy received a 90% rating in its very first year!

Overall, teachers gave the Virtual Academy lessons a 9 out of 10 while 85% of teachers said that they use a Virtual Academy video lesson at least once a week!

Teachers also reported that the videos make using Green Our Planet’s PreK-5 curriculum easier and more effective. 90% of teachers said that they use the videos in class to teach students directly, and 27% said they typically show a video two or more times. The results of the Virtual Academy survey also show that the majority of teachers use the videos to review or learn STEM content before teaching a lesson to their students, resulting in higher-quality STEM education for Nevada’s students.

Thank you to the Andre Agassi Foundation for Education for sponsoring the STEM videos and to the Nevada Department of Health and Human services for sponsoring our nutrition videos. And to all of the teachers who have taken the survey, thank you! Your feedback means that we can improve and impact more students.

“Not only did these lessons help my students, but it helped me understand some misconceptions I had about helping our environment. These are great tools we can add to our teaching to give a well rounded lesson, even when we return to the classroom.”
                       —Kindergarten Teacher at Richard Bryan Elementary School

A School Garden Flourishes in Pahrump, 60+ miles from Las Vegas


In 2018, Green Our Planet built a garden at Floyd Elementary in Pahrump (64 miles west of Las Vegas with a population of 36,000) and provided a year of Green Our Planet training and programming. We then watched in awe and delight as the teachers at Floyd integrated the garden into their lessons, conducted experiential learning projects, and took the program to the next level.

Master Gardener Scot Troter, who is also the school’s custodian, maintains the garden and works with the students to develop innovative garden projects. Along with the teachers, including STEAM teacher Ms. Kate Fowler, Mr. Scot has turned the garden into a magical place of learning and wonder for the students. Their additions include an insect hotel to host helpful pollinators, a meditative rock labyrinth, a garden library, a pumpkin patch, an herb garden and a pollinator garden.

Every Saturday this summer you’ll find a group of students and community members in the school garden learning about horticulture. Because of the dedication of Mr. Scot and all the teachers at Floyd Elementary, Pahrump students are learning both academic concepts and life skills through the magical garden at their school. Next fall, Green Our Planet will be implementing its STEM Hydroponics Program at the school. We are so proud of all of their accomplishments!

100+ CCSD Students Enter Get Healthy Competition

During a pandemic, making sure to keep up healthy habits is more important than ever.  So, in partnership with Caesars Entertainment, SNAP-Ed, and the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, Green Our Planet launched the Get Healthy Challenge!  Over the last two months, we’ve called on students from across Nevada to submit videos showcasing what they do to stay healthy and received 115 video entries!!   Thanks to Chef Zach Hillberry, Green Our Planet Board Member and Director of Food and Beverage at Caesars Entertainment for helping us make the very tough decision to pick the 3 winners.


FIRST PRIZE    Skylar from Bass ES. (1 min)
SECOND PRIZE Wyland and Weston Gilmore from Clark and Cashman MS (1.5 mins)
THIRD PRIZE  Chelsie, Bass ES. (46 seconds)

Teacher Spotlight: Steve Gaskill, Knudson MS

Steve Gaskill, Sixth Grade Teacher at Knudson Middle School

Favorite healthy meal: Linguine with parsley

Steve Gaskill is the Garden Team Lead at Knudson Middle School, running both the hydroponics and school garden programs. Steve has been a stand-out teacher because of his enthusiasm, participation, and innovative ideas on how to incorporate the outdoor and hydroponics labs to teach STEM, nutrition and conservation to students at Knudson MS. All during the pandemic, Steve produced entertaining garden tour videos and shared them with his students and the Green Our Planet team (See the video above).

Steve grew up in a semi-rural area of Utah with over an acre of fruit trees, vegetable gardens, chicken coops and horse pasture as his backyard. “I’ve always loved to grow food,” he said. He started his career as a research scientist and shifted to work as a patent attorney before becoming a teacher in 2011. “I’d always thought that I’d become a teacher at some point in my career. When my law firm lost a government contract and laid off most of us working there, two months before my wedding, I decided to join my wife and become an educator.” The following year he started working at Knudson Middle School, and he hasn’t looked back!

With a research science background along with his love for growing food and a desire to educate, it was only a matter of time before the school gardening stars aligned and Steve became the Garden Team Leader at Knudson MS.   One of the first projects Steve did was to get his students to grow potatoes in a small, unused area to teach Next Generation Science Standards like genetics, reproduction and photosynthesis. “My supervisor suggested we work with Green Our Planet to develop a larger area. After we won a grant from the Department of Agriculture, it all took off.” He’s a major proponent of the experiential learning aspect of his school garden and hydroponics programs. Steve has always believed that the best way to teach students is to get them involved in hands-on projects.

Steve and his students are currently working on an exciting Watermelon Genetics project. As far as Steve is concerned, the only reason Mendel used peas is that he wasn’t working with middle schoolers. “Kids love watermelons!  And it turns out that watermelon genetics are actually more Mendelian than peas. Right now, we are growing our second-generation watermelons which are a product of pollen from a red-fleshed Sugar Baby watermelon used to fertilize a yellow-fleshed Desert King watermelon. Will the offspring have red flesh or yellow flesh? Will they be orange? We’ll find out!”

To all the other teachers out there looking to inspire and engage your students, Steve’s words of wisdom are: “Get the kids to do hands-on projects! They’ll be happier and more motivated if they are doing something interesting. They’ll ask more questions, think more about what’s happening in class, and ultimately learn more. Growing a garden is a great way to get kids doing things. And the best part is that the kids get to eat their projects!”

Thank you, Steve, for your inspiring work educating our youth and  helping empower the next generation of scientists and conservationists!

1,500+ Native Milkweed Plants Planted at 100 CCSD Schools for Migrating Monarchs

This spring, Green Our Planet partnered with the Howard Hughes Corporation to plant over 1600 milkweed plants this spring across the Las Vegas Valley. The Howard Hughes Corporation planted 100 plants to their property at Downtown Summerlin Mall while Green Our Planet has added 1,500 milkweed plants to school gardens to create a string of Monarch Way Stations across Las Vegas that provide more than 2,000 milkweed plants. Think of a Monarch Way Station as a combination hotel/buffet/nursery for Monarchs where the butterflies can find food, lay their eggs, and raise their young.

Native milkweed plants are a critical in the support structure of the Monarch Butterfly’s population because milkweed plants have steadily disappeared from the U.S. during the last 20 years due to habitat destruction and the use of pesticides. As a result, Monarch Butterflies have fewer and fewer places to feed and lay eggs eggs as they undergo their long journey from as far as the Rocky Mountains to California and back each year (Monarchs east of the Rockies winter in Mexico). CCSD schools now proudly provide food and habitat for these beautiful butterflies as they carry out the longest insect migration in the world.  Meanwhile, students are excited to see native habitat restored on their school grounds as they await the arrival of the butterflies.

If you see a Monarch Butterfly around town, make sure to snap a picture and send it to us!

Below: Green Our Planet Farmer Manager Brenda Rodriguez next to a mature native Rush Milkweed plant, A. subulata, at a local CCSD school

NV Energy Foundation Supports STEM Education

At Nate Mack Elementary in Las Vegas, students learn STEM, nutrition, and conservation through hydroponics units and their school garden! The NV Energy Foundation has sponsored both Green Our Planet’s Hydroponics STEM Program and School Garden STEM Program at Nate Mack. Now, students can learn science and other subjects through hands-on lessons while experiencing the wonder of nature. You can watch this video to see their hydroponics program here! Thank you, NV Energy Foundation, for supporting the STEM programs at Nate Mack and for making it possible for students to have unforgettable nature-based learning experiences!

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