Leyla, a kindergartener at MUSE School’s flagship in Calabasas, California, is a 5-year-old on a mission: a mission to save the planet, that is. Now in her second year at MUSE, Leyla has developed an unbridled passion for environmentalism.
Every semester, each MUSE student selects a ‘passion’ which is incorporated into all aspects of their education. After being exposed to MUSE ‘s Sustainability Pillar and environmentally attuned curriculum, Leyla decided that her passion would be saving the planet. We sat down with Leyla’s mother, Christine Lopez, and kindergarten teacher, Jenny Briesch, to learn about this vivacious young girl’s dedication to a cause greater than herself.
Originally living in Venice, California, Christine re-located to the Calabasas area specifically so Leyla could attend MUSE. While she’s always been conscious of the environment and waste at home, Christine explained how Leyla’s MUSE experience has brought her awareness to another level.
“To me it’s amazing, because she is in a position to become a leader of thought, being in this type of environment – this is her fundamental development. Instead of having to learn these things later and break old patterns, she’s having sustainability instilled in her from her formative years,” Christine said. “So, she decided on her own that she wants to save the world. And I told her, ‘you could, Leyla. You definitely could.’ ”
The project is certainly an ambitious one, and though she wasn’t certain of the direction she wanted to initially take, Leyla began working her teacher, Jenny, determining the various avenues she could pursue in tackling her project. She also worked closely with Rick Perillo, MUSE School’s Seed-to-Table instructor. With Rick’s help, Leyla planted an oak tree outside of her classroom, which she lovingly named ‘Lulu.’
Leyla also began picking up trash on campus, and even developed a student following, or a ‘crew’ as Jenny describes. The students created a barge in the back of the school dumpsters to capture any residual trash, to prevent it from floating into the sewer and, ultimately, oceans. Even in the classroom, Jenny was intent on incorporating Leyla’s passion project into all aspects of her education this past semester. They read The Lorax to spur conversation about deforestation, and learned about the life cycles of plants. Jenny also created opportunities for full-class participation so Leyla could engage with her peers on the topic.
“We talked about how much water it takes to produce different types of food,” Jenny explained. “The entire class learned that an apple takes 33 gallons of water to produce, whereas 2 lb. of beef requires 15,400 gallons.” Jenny added that, “With Leyla’s passion project, we really focused on making sustainability, sustainable – in everyone’s life. Similar to OMD, she’s not asking anyone to be completely plant-based, just one meal a day. She wants it to fit people’s lifestyle.”
Now, Leyla is continuing with this passion in her spring semester of kindergarten, but with a particular focus on animals. After learning about the recent forest fires in Australia, she was moved to try and save the many displaced koalas. “I’m going to let her take it wherever she wants to go,” Jenny said. “I’m not going to pigeonhole her into anything, because I do think that she could make a difference, and she’s so passionate about it.”
Jenny plans to take her class to a local climate strike soon, as part of the ongoing protests taking place across the globe. “I just know people will say, ‘wow – these kindergarteners have a lot to say.’ Jenny has been a teacher with MUSE for five years, and was previously with a more conventional school. She notes the distinct difference in students’ awareness of the environment, even in her kindergarten students.
“These five and six year olds are so open to new concepts and ideas, and if you’re not pushing it on them and simply presenting facts, they’re much more receptive. Even though they’re young, they really get it – and they have a lot of compassion and want to be that change in the world. As opposed to my old school where it was not even a discussion, these kids are really aware of what’s going on.”
Founded with the intent of teaching children to become sustainability natives, the MUSE model integrates lifelong lessons surrounding the environment and climate change. Depending on age, teachers present developmentally appropriate curriculum and projects that provide students with knowledge and experiences to equip them for a changing planet, and what they can do to live more consciously.
“I believe that all of our pillars really help mold these incredible little humans. They’re so much more aware of other people and things, apart from themselves. I think that sustainability ties into all of our other pillars, too, and really helps the students develop.”
As Leyla’s mother, Christine, reflects on her daughter’s schooling experience versus her own, she notes the clear difference in mentality.
“For me, I hated school. But Leyla doesn’t want to go home at the end of the day. All the MUSE Pillars put together, the sense of love and compassion, and teaching children to use their voices and not feel afraid – it’s huge.” Christine said.
There is a resounding feeling of excitement, and hope, when we see young children becoming so engaged with their education, environmentalism, and generally becoming such empowered individuals from a young age. “She’s got what it takes to be a mover and shaker, and really make a change,” Christine shared with pride.
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