Secretary Duncan Praises Sustainable Schools and Announces Tour

Secretary Arne Duncan, Assistant Secretary of Commerce Mark Schaefer and Acting Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality Mike Boots celebrate green schools. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Secretary Arne Duncan, Assistant Secretary of Commerce Mark Schaefer and Acting Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality Mike Boots celebrate green schools. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

For the third consecutive year, a cohort of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) and District Sustainability Awardees received accolades at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., for their sustainable, healthy facilities, wellness practices, and sustainability learning. Honorees participated in a celebration offered by the Center for Green Schools and Senator Tom Harkin’s office, where they met their Congressional representatives, and in a  range of tours offered by the National Park Service, the U.S. Botanical Gardens, the Department of Energy, the White House, and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, among others.

Joined by Acting Chair of the White House Council for Environmental Quality Mike Boots and U.S. Department of Commerce Assistant Secretary Mark Schaefer, Secretary Duncan praised these school and district sustainability all-stars at an afternoon ceremony for their efforts to reduce both their impact on the environment and utility costs through conservation and facilities upgrades, keeping students healthy with daily wellness practices, and using environmental education to teach all subjects, especially science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), civics, and green careers.

Secretary Duncan also announced the “Healthy Schools, High-Achieving Students” Best Practices Tour. The six-state tour will highlight practices that improve the wellness, productivity, and achievement of students and faculty through health, safety, and educational improvements in school facilities, as well as environmental education, nutrition and physical activity. This year’s tour will visit several Kentucky, West Virginia, Minnesota, Florida, Colorado and Maryland honorees from August to October.

What have honorees done to receive this award? They’re turning out the lights, adding insulation, changing light bulbs, implementing building automation, bringing daylight into their classrooms, and installing renewable energy sources, allowing them to save money. Their efforts  ensure healthy, safe air quality, better ventilation, and reduced contaminants, and they regularly maintain building systems, ban idling vehicles, purchase safe cleaning supplies, and implement integrated pest management.

Students also use the school building and grounds as instruments for learning. Using the school building, surrounding natural environments and school gardens as instruments for learning, students are eating healthy, local, and school-grown foods and are getting more physical activity outdoors. Nearly all honorees take advantage of Farm to School programs and through programs like Safe Routes to School or Walking School Bus, students reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve the quality of air. Their efforts improve the health of schools, literally helping students and staff to breathe easier. Students in Green Ribbon schools gain life-long civic skills and stewardship values, hands-on experience with science, technology, engineering and math and graduate prepared for the jobs of tomorrow.

Given all these benefits, it’s not surprising that ED has added a third award category for the 2014-2015 awards cycle. In addition to schools and districts, state authorities are invited to nominate green colleges and universities by February 1, 2015.

To learn more about this year’s U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools and District Sustainability Awardees, visit our website. You may also subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Kyle Flood is a confidential assistant in the Office of the General Counsel and social media manager for the ED Green Team.

Recognizing Green Schools on Earth Day

To celebrate Earth Day, earlier today U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the 2014 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) and District Sustainability Award recipients. Joined in an online live stream by Acting Chief White House Council on Environmental Quality Mike Boots, Secretary Duncan celebrated the forty-eight schools and nine school districts chosen for their exemplary efforts in reducing environmental impact and utility costs, promoting better health for students and staff, and offering effective environmental education, including civics, STEM and green career pathways.

Students gardening at an elementary school. Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education

Students gardening at an elementary school. Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education

Reiterating the Department’s support for green schools, Secretary Duncan praised the selected schools and districts, stating: “Today’s honorees are modeling a comprehensive approach to being green by encompassing facility, wellness and learning into their daily operations.” Duncan went on to say that the recipients “are demonstrating ways schools can simultaneously cut costs; improve health, and engage students with hands-on learning that prepares them with the thinking skills necessary to be successful in college and careers.

The forty-eight schools and nine school districts were selected from a pool of candidates voluntarily nominated by thirty state education agencies across the country. The schools serve various grade levels, including 29 elementary, 16 middle, and 18 high schools, with several offering various K-12 variations. Many schools also serve pre-K students, demonstrating that health, wellness, and environmental concepts can be taught to every student, even the earliest learners. Selected schools and districts also demonstrated that their efforts not only improve physical, environmental, and nutritional health of school communities, but also save schools money in utility costs which can be applied directly back to where it is needed most – the classrooms. Read all about this year’s honorees and their tremendous achievements.

In addition to recognizing this year’s U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools honorees, Secretary Duncan announced a new nomination category for the 2014-2015 awards cycle. This award will offer higher education institutions the chance to receive much-deserved recognition for their  resource conservation, healthy living and learning environments, and commitment to education for sustainability. For this award, states are encouraged to document how the nominees’ sustainability in facilities, health and learning has also reduced college costs, increased completion rates, led to higher rates of employment, and ensured robust civic skills among graduates. As with the Pre-K to 12 school and district nominations, which have honored 48 percent disadvantaged selectees over the course of the last three cycles, authorities are also encouraged to consider diverse types of institutions.

There are many tools and resources available to all schools, Pre-K to postsecondary, to help with resource conservation, health and to ensure education for sustainability. You can find free resources available through the U.S. Department of Education’s Green Strides Resources and Webinar Series. You can also stay up to date through the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools’ webpage, where you can connect with the Facebook, twitter, and newsletter.

With these tools, next fall your school may be ready to apply in your state for one if its nominations to the 2015 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools! State education agencies are encouraged to indicate their intent to nominate next spring by August 1, 2014 and schools, districts and postsecondary institutions to contact their state agencies for more information on applications.

Kyle Flood is a confidential assistant in the Office of the General Counsel and social media manager for the ED Green Team.