Since 1932, Midland students have lived as though we live in a world of limited resources. The genius of Midland’s founders, the Squibbs, was in making our relationships with our resources transparent. Students chop wood to heat their cabins and shower water, help tend Midland’s large organic garden, are relatively unplugged, and for almost a decade, have helped build the school’s renewable energy infrastructure in annual increments.
Midland has always subscribed to Paul Squibb’s belief that, “money, light, heat, and water are not things that flow naturally out of pipes, but are things for which somebody has to spend time and thought and energy… I believe the [student] who has learned not to take the material blessings of life for granted will live a more vivid and interesting life and will be the better citizen.” Consuming items of convenience, such as electricity or warm water, by simply flipping a switch hides the true cost of these resources. At Midland, making the invisible visible is a tangible way of teaching personal accountability. Midland has been fortunate with eight decades of intentional leadership focused on our community meeting its basic needs, avoiding the trend of increasingly isolating our youth from the daily concerns of where our water, food, warmth, and electricity come from. It started with the Squibbs’ unwavering belief that work is good for us – not just work of the mind, as exists in schools everywhere, but work of the hands. This work builds character. It’s a way of life that all Americans once lived daily, but that slipped away, as waves of prosperity were accompanied by groundswell habits of insulation from the elements, passive consumerism, and wastefulness.
Over the years, it has evolved into a deep environmental ethic, which has set up Midland as an ideal proving ground for kids building – among other things – a solar-powered future. Allowing students to help build their own renewable energy infrastructure as part of their education demystifies that switch and it makes renewable energy technologies accessible to the people who need it most.
Many Midland projects focus on environmental and community sustainability. A large 10-acre organic garden with pastures for grass-fed cattle, maintained by faculty and students, produces much of Midland’s sustenance. We sustain a long-term native valley oak restoration and monitoring project, in which every student helps plant a tree from acorns or saplings each year. Midland students get out onto the property in classes and through our Outdoor Program, which is woven into our mission and daily lives. Midland students track personal water use and work to decrease campus consumption. Midland has an active recycling program run by faculty and students, which prevents beverage bottles, paper, cardboard, plastic, aluminum and hazardous waste from ending up in landfills. Campus water comes from wells charged by a large and pristine watershed. Each year since 2004, sophomores help install a grid-tied photovoltaic (PV) system that meets another 3% of campus electricity needs. As of 2012, 25% of campus is powered by these arrays. Midland plans to continue engaging successive sophomore classes in this project, tying the work to their academic classes. Not only is this incremental approach annually affordable (as opposed to, say, a one-time investment in an enormous array), but it touches every one of our students, who take ownership of their class’s individual array. Midland has received funding from the E.E. Ford Foundation and matching donors for this important work.
These projects, which begin in the kitchen with Midland’s Jobs Program, empower our students with skills, confidence, and wisdom to make a difference in their communities beyond Midland. They provide opportunities for students to see that, “What I do matters.”
In 2009, Midland was awarded a Governor’s Award for Environmental and Economic Leadership, California’s highest environmental honor.
For the 12th consecutive year, our 10th graders helped with a solar installation. This year, they also addressed the integration of shower fire and solar thermal water heating.
In the first couple days of Experiential Week, our 10th graders and faculty used hand and power tools to build all the components of a small wind turbine.
Dr. Jennifer Francis gave an excellent talk to the Midland community as the Mason Willrich Lecturer on global environmental issues.