WEB EXCLUSIVE: Credo High wins biomimicry grant
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By Mira Brody  February 11, 2014 02:14 pm

A Swiss engineer in 1941 named George de Mestral was walking back from a hunting trip absorbed by the tedious job of picking the burrs off of his socks. Fascinated by the strength the thistles had toward his wool socks as well as the fur of his dog, this moment is attributed to his invention of Velcro, a simple yet useful invention that has helped our everyday lives.

The act of mimicking elements of nature and applying it to human engineering is known today as biomimicry, a practice many Credo High School students will get the chance to study, thanks to a grant they recently received from the Dean Witter Foundation.

The grant, which is a part of a San Francisco-based program called Learning with Nature, will fund a curriculum for 11th-graders that focuses on sustainable engineering techniques inspired by the mechanics of nature, the first of its kind. Tiffany Roberts, who has a background in biomimicry and is currently a teacher at Credo, will partner with Sam Stier, who is the head of the education department at the Biomimicry Foundation to create lesson plans that can soon be adapted to other schools as well.

"Nature has materials and ideas for us if we choose to look around closely," says Chip Romer, Credo High director and creator. "Once they learn the principals, it will be the students' responsibility to find something in nature and create. That's the thrilling part about it; they aren't driven by the teacher so much as their own inspiration."

Aside from Velcro, biomimicry has claimed the inspiration behind airplanes, (the flight of birds), antibacterial hospital surfaces (the texture of shark skin), non-carcinogenic glues (the chemical make-up of blue mussels) and energy efficient car designs (the growth process of trees). It is considered one of the most important methodologies in the development of a sustainable future, and no matter what their career aspirations, provides engaging lessons for students to apply in their own lives.

The new program is fueled by the standards Romer has worked to keep alive in his school from the beginning. Credo is a Waldorf-inspired charter school, which highlights rigorous college preparatory courses, as well as a strict balance of music, the arts, sciences, sustainability in economics and farming. In the three years since its opening, Credo has had the highest API (Academic Performance Index) score in the district and has grown from 10th-grade classes, now to 11th grade and soon will host the 12th-grade level as well. They are the only "green certified" public school in the county and have a strong group of faculty, staff and parents who are in alignment with the larger goals, core values, and initial intentions of Credo.

"There are only three public Waldorf schools in the US," says Romer, explaining that Waldorf is normally geared toward kindergarten through 8th grade; he founded the public Waldorf charter schools in Sonoma. "Credo is a little ahead of the pack in terms of adding high school, but we're making the curriculum replicable, so others have a step up."

The school, still located at the old elementary school campus on Southwest Boulevard, has been so successful that parents commute to the Rohnert Park high school from Napa, Healdsburg and West County, or even have relocated from the East Coast and Hawaii so their children can attend.

Geoff Sythers, the director at Sonoma Mountain Village, a community just east of M-Section and soon to be possibly the greenest development in the country, has been working closely with Romer to possibly move Credo to the SMV campus in the future. Romer hopes the move will not only make it so his students can attend school in the greenest community in America, but also so that when they graduate, they will continue to carry the values that SMV has installed in them.

"We study environmental science a lot at our school and it is very disheartening sometimes for students to see what a mess we are in," Sythers said. "We can now take the approach of 'hey, nature actually has a lot of answers,' and I think it will be uplifting and energizing for them."

The initial biomimicry course, set to begin this coming fall, will be 20 lessons throughout the semester, each about two hours long. They will not only continue with Credo's promise to adequately prepare its students for CSU and UC transfer, but also help them to practice conflict resolution, teach self-awareness of who they are and what they are going to be in the world.

"It's a new door into this field," says Romer of biomimicry. "Our students have been studying nature and farming and gardening since grade school, and to take that foundation and turn it into an engineering design, it opens up a whole new field for them. I'm hoping students will turn onto engineering in a new way."

Credo in only three years has gained both the attention of parents from various cities and organizations from San Francisco looking to fund its programs, providing for the high school a curriculum and reputation beyond that of anything the country, let alone Rohnert Park, has seen.



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