Inspiring Tomorrow’s Leaders: Educator Spotlight on Clay Elliott

May 29, 2024 | Classroom Activities, Community News, Educator Spotlight

Wayfinder Society is for environmental educators who believe in the power of collective action. It is an online platform hosting a robust offering of classroom and teaching resources that makes it easy for educators to create a fun, dynamic, and engaging classroom and to inspire their students through environmental awareness and action. Every other month, we highlight an educator in our network.

Educator standing by a sign out in nature

Clay Elliott has been an educator in the Anaheim Union High School District for 25 years. Currently, he teaches high school chemistry and physics at Oxford Academy in Cypress, California. In 2023, Oxford Academy was ranked #1 for the best high schools in California by U.S. News & World Report, as well as #9 for the best U.S. high schools.

Throughout his tenure, Mr. Elliott has been passionate about strengthening his skills as an educator by going above and beyond what is asked. To solidify his expertise, he went through the rigorous process to become a National Board-Certified Educator – opening doors far beyond the classroom. Today, Mr. Elliott is a NASA Airborne Astronomy Ambassador to help enhance student science learning and STEM engagement in his Southern California school district. Mr. Elliott never ceases to find new and creative ways to strengthen his classroom education for his students. It’s qualities like these that remind us that the next generation is being supported in their education and beyond. 

Mr. Elliott’s impact extends beyond his classroom as the advisor for Oxford Academy’s Sustainability club. The club is an extracurricular activity for students interested in learning about solutions, experimenting with sustainable activities, and getting hands on experience via field trips and onsite opportunities like waste sorting at school. Every year, Mr. Elliott screens The Story of Plastic documentary to the Sustainability Club to educate students on the impact of plastic production and disposal on human communities around the globe. The alternative focus on humans instead of the environment is an important shift for educators to include for a more comprehensive approach to this complex and layered conversation. Educators can learn how to incorporate this documentary into their curriculum using Wayfinder Society’s free toolkit. In addition, prior to the pandemic, Algalita hosted the Plastic Ocean Pollution Summit (POPS), bringing together students worldwide to explore creative solutions to plastic pollution. During many of these conferences, the Algalita team was able to see Mr. Elliott’s thoughtful teaching approach on full display as he participated as an advisor supporting students throughout the weekend-long conference.   

“The POPS summit put on by Algalita was a transformative experience for the students and teachers who participated… It was truly an international event with students coming from across the United States and countries around the world. Each year I participated; the program grew. One piece that really stood out to me was how students were invited to the conference based not necessarily on a completed project, but instead on an idea they wanted to pursue. Most student programs focus on competition. The Algalita program focused on building community, advocacy and helping students to clarify and build their own ideas and voice. The program also offered a powerful group of mentors for the students.”Clay Elliott 

Another example of a creative and engaging learning experience was when Mr. Elliott organized a field trip to Oak Canyon Water Facility, where students learned about water engineering and water conservation firsthand by staff excited to share a glimpse of their day-to-day work. This experience prepared students for the annual Water Engineering 4 Good (WE4G) competition – an online STEAM competition for middle and high school students hosted by Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. Participating students learn from water industry professionals and come up with a possible engineering solution that could be used to conserve water inside or outside the home. Each team builds a small-scale physical model out of recycled or upcycled materials. One year, his team – comprised of his high school physics students – designed a sustainable watering device that won first place! The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California also holds an annual Solar Cup Challenge where Mr. Elliott often brings his high school students to learn engineering, physics, math, technical writing and career building skills. Students then work in teams and test their newly learned knowledge to transform an empty bath hull into a fully operational solar powered boat. It’s experiences that focus on teamwork and testing one’s knowledge where Mr. Elliott sees students gain confidence and a deeper understanding of complex scientific systems.  

Despite his busy schedule, Mr. Elliott has a new project up his sleeve! Inspired by Bring Your Own Long Beach reuse store at Algalita in neighboring Long Beach, CA, the next zero waste project his sustainability club is working on is a BYO station on campus where students are encouraged to bring their own bottles to refill products, such as soap, shampoo, and lotion. This project would not only provide an important resource for students who may need it, but it would also teach them a valuable waste reduction technique.   

From engaging field trips to team competitions, Mr. Elliott’s unwavering dedication to education, innovation, and sustainability has made a lasting impact on his students and the broader school community. Through his roles as a teacher, advisor, and ambassador, he has consistently gone above and beyond to provide meaningful learning experiences and cultivate a passion for STEM and environmental stewardship in his students. His commitment to continuous improvement and creative problem-solving helps his students be prepared for the future – equipped with the knowledge and skills to make positive change in the world. As Mr. Elliott continues to inspire and lead by example, he embodies the true spirit of Wayfinder Society for Environmental Education by being a great example of an educator who not only teaches but empowers the next generation of leaders and changemakers. 

Students working on an art project

Oxford Academy (OA) Sustainability Club members make recycled winter ornaments

vertical school garden

OA Sustainability Club solar powered/ hydroponic vertical garden project

Students and teacher in front of Aquarium of the Pacific

Mr. Elliott and students at The Story of Plastic screening at The Aquarium of the Pacific hosted by Algalita