In the heart of California’s Central Valley, where the struggles of a working-class town intersect with environmental challenges, a transformative initiative is shaping the perspectives and futures of high school students. Porterville, often overshadowed by its industrial landscape and adverse climate conditions, is becoming a hub for the next generation of environmentally conscious leaders, thanks to the innovative approach of Climate Action Pathways for Schools (CAPS).

Embracing Change in Porterville

Jesika Gonzalez, an 18-year-old with a vibrant spirit and a passion for sustainability, once viewed her hometown with indifference. However, CAPS has shifted her perception, allowing her to appreciate the intricate tapestry of sustainability woven into the fabric of Porterville. In a town grappling with air quality issues, agricultural challenges, and scorching temperatures, CAPS emerges as a beacon of hope.

The narrative of Porterville being a small town with “nothing to do” is being rewritten by the students of CAPS, who are turning challenges into opportunities for positive change. These young individuals are not merely passive observers; they are active participants in reshaping the destiny of their community.

The Genesis of Climate Action Pathways for Schools

CAPS didn’t materialize out of thin air. It has its roots in the determination of a local solar engineer, Bill Kelly, who recognized the untapped potential within the school district’s career-technical education program. The collaboration started small, aiming to share Kelly’s expertise, but it soon evolved into something much more significant.

Kirk Anne Taylor, with a deep background in education and nonprofit management, joined the initiative as the executive director. Her vision extended beyond just solar power. She saw an opportunity to expand the model across the state, embracing the broader spectrum of environmental awareness. CAPS was born not just as a program but as a movement, with the potential to redefine the role of education in shaping sustainable communities.

Training Tomorrow’s Eco-Leaders

CAPS is not a conventional educational program; it’s a dynamic platform that exposes students to a blend of education and hands-on experience. The program offers a unique blend of theoretical knowledge and practical application, ensuring that the lessons learned in the classroom have real-world implications.

Through school-year and summer internships, CAPS students delve into projects that transcend the boundaries of traditional education. For instance, Jesika Gonzalez and her classmates organized a bike rodeo for younger students, encouraging sustainable transportation alternatives. They also created detailed maps highlighting traffic and sidewalk hazards to promote walking and biking to schools, emphasizing the importance of eco-friendly practices at a grassroots level.

Other CAPS participants take on roles as environmental educators, conducting presentations to inform fellow students about climate change and the myriad of green job opportunities. They actively contribute to managing routes and charging schedules for the school’s growing fleet of electric buses, showcasing how the transition to cleaner energy sources can be seamlessly integrated into daily life.

Dollars Saved, Futures Secured

The impact of CAPS extends beyond environmental consciousness. By meticulously reviewing original building blueprints, inputting data into endless Excel spreadsheets, and engaging in schoolwide efficiency competitions, CAPS students have managed to save their district a staggering $850,000 on a $2.9 million energy budget.

This financial prudence is not only commendable but has also contributed to a 100% college enrollment rate for the program’s participants. The success stories of these students defy the odds, especially in working-class districts like Porterville, where public school achievement, attendance, and college enrollment are facing challenges exacerbated by the recent global pandemic.

CAPS, however, stands as a beacon of hope, showcasing that career-technical education programs can lead to higher graduation rates and place more students, especially those from working-class backgrounds, into promising career paths. As the world grapples with the consequences of the pandemic, initiatives like CAPS offer a ray of optimism, demonstrating that strategic investments in education can yield long-term benefits for both individuals and their communities.

Nurturing Eco-Leaders and Changing Perspectives

As CAPS students, such as Jesika Gonzalez and David Proctor, pave their way to college, they are also influencing their families’ attitudes toward climate change. Overcoming skepticism and indifference, these young individuals are becoming agents of change within their households, fostering a sense of pride and support for their chosen paths.

Jesika’s father, initially skeptical of climate change and its associated politics, now expresses pride in her daughter’s commitment. It underscores a crucial aspect of CAPS – it’s not just shaping the future workforce; it’s changing societal perspectives, one family at a time.

David Proctor, 17, grew up as the oldest of seven siblings. His mother initially held reservations about climate change but, recognizing the tangible benefits of CAPS, agreed to his participation. Proctor, driven by a passion for monitoring the district’s solar performance, is on track to graduate and become the first in his family to attend college. His journey is a testament to the transformative power of education, breaking down barriers and opening doors to new possibilities.

Bridging the Green Jobs Gap

The demand for green workers is escalating, and CAPS is positioning its students at the forefront of this burgeoning sector. With the promise of nine million new green jobs in the next decade, the program is not just an educational initiative but a pipeline for skilled individuals ready to tackle the challenges of a sustainable future.

The Inflation Reduction Act and associated investments are expected to create opportunities for millions in the green workforce. CAPS students, equipped with hands-on experience and a passion for environmental sustainability, are poised to fill these roles, contributing to a cleaner, more sustainable future.

The success of CAPS is not just measured in dollars saved or academic achievements; it’s measured in the tangible impact these students are making in their community and the potential they hold to shape the future of the green job sector. As the world transitions towards cleaner energy and sustainable practices, initiatives like CAPS are instrumental in bridging the skills gap and preparing the workforce for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

A Local Solution for Global Impact

Jocelyn Gee, head of community growth for the Green Jobs Board, underscores the significance of hyperlocal solutions. CAPS, by involving frontline communities in crafting solutions, becomes a blueprint for creating positive change at the grassroots level. The program not only equips students with the skills needed for the green workforce but also makes a tangible difference in the lives of Porterville residents today.

The concept of “thinking globally, acting locally” is embodied in CAPS. By instilling a sense of responsibility and environmental stewardship at the community level, the program ensures that its impact goes beyond academic achievements. It’s about creating a mindset shift, where individuals understand that their actions, no matter how small, contribute to a larger, global movement towards sustainability.


In conclusion, CAPS stands as a testament to the transformative power of education and community-driven initiatives. As Porterville’s youth emerge as pioneers in environmental stewardship, the ripple effect of their efforts is felt far beyond the borders of their small town. Climate Action Pathways for Schools is not just shaping careers; it’s nurturing a sustainable future for Porterville and inspiring similar initiatives nationwide.

As we navigate the complexities of the 21st century, facing environmental challenges, economic shifts, and societal changes, programs like CAPS provide a roadmap for how education can be a catalyst for positive transformation. By empowering students to become eco-leaders, CAPS is sowing the seeds for a future where sustainability is not just a buzzword but a way of life.

As we celebrate the successes of CAPS, let it be a call to action for communities, educators, and policymakers to invest in similar initiatives. Let us recognize the potential within our youth, the potential to shape a future where green jobs are not just a necessity but a cornerstone of a thriving and sustainable society. In the story of Porterville and CAPS, we find inspiration and hope for a world where the next generation leads us towards a greener, more resilient future.