As Director of the new Green Ribbon Schools program, I have visited a lot of Green Schools. I have been thrilled by geothermal heating and cooling systems; intrigued by water retention ponds and cisterns; and delighted by practical yet attractive recycled building materials. But I’ve also been impressed by schools that have “gone green” through sheer ingenuity. My visits to schools that look like any other reinforce our understanding that any school, no matter its resources or location, can take relatively simple steps toward the goals of the Green Ribbon Schools recognition award.
Every school can become a green school by making progress in the areas of: 1) environmental impact and energy efficiency; 2) health and wellness; and 3) environmental literacy. So what does a green school look like? Don’t be fooled by ordinary appearances. What sets apart a green school requires a look inside, where enterprising school administrators, teachers and community members lead enthusiastic students toward change.
In a green school, the community might help with the construction of a simple outdoor amphitheater that serves as an open air classroom. A green school can start a recycling program that encourages communities without district waste management programs to bring their recyclables to school for collection. Or recognize quarterly the class with the highest number of students commuting by a means other than their parents’ cars. Administrators can engage community volunteers to help students plan and maintain school gardens. They can adopt a no cupcake policy and offer students healthy birthday reward alternatives, such as additional recess. They might ask students to “trash the trash” with reusable lunchware. A good-humored principal might don his Mr. Banana costume – and check his self-esteem at the door – all in the name of teaching young scholars good nutrition.
At the high school level, a motivated environmental science teacher could have a huge impact, using an aquaponic garden to teach the nitrogen cycle in biology, horticulture and other environmental science classes. Students might develop not only science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills through their projects, but also develop civic skills. Students could use the profits from the plants they grow and sell to improve the schools’ environmental impact and cost savings. The teacher might organize an annual clean-up in nearby woodlands, highways or trails and garner local organizations’ sponsorship and collaboration. The green high school’s environmental club can help the school transition to compact fluorescent bulbs and task lighting, reducing the energy consumption of classrooms, and to implement a recycling program.
These are all real-life examples from visits not far from the U.S. Department of Education’s Washington, D.C. headquarters, but efforts such as these are being implemented all across the country. Every school that takes these simple steps can save energy, reduce costs, increase health and wellness, and offer effective environmental education. These schools are proving that it’s easier than you think being green.
See Green Ribbon’s previous blog posts:
- Green Ribbon Receives Overwhelming Support… and A Few Ribbons of its Own
- Green Ribbon Schools Program Has State Agencies Working in New Ways
- What’s New in Healthy, Green Schools at the U.S. Department of Education
- Sustainability Education Summit Report Released
- Final Plans Announced For Green Ribbon Schools
US Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools is a federal recognition award and should not be confused with any green schools program conducted by non-governmental entities.
Andrea Falken, Director, Green Ribbon Schools