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.

Engaging Students to Improve Environmental and Outdoor Education

The Urban Waters Federal Partnership, a 13-agency initiative, aims to stimulate local economies, create jobs, improve quality of life, and protect health by revitalizing urban waterways and the communities around them, focusing on under-served urban communities.

Currently, the partnership has 18 locations across the nation. These locations have or will build partnerships among local, state and federal stakeholders – as well as schools. Here is just a sampling of how students are getting in on the Urban Waters action:

Anacostia StudentsAt Bladensburg Waterfront Park in Bladensburg, Md., the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Urban Waters team assists Neval Thomas Elementary school students, parents and teachers as they paddle along the Anacostia River during the Wilderness Inquiry Canoemobile on October 22, 2013.

During the visit, the students had an outdoor education experience learning about canoeing, stormwater pollution and nesting bird species. The Wilderness Inquiry Canoemobile spent the entire week in DC and explored the Anacostia River with approximately 500 of the area’s public school students.

To view upcoming Wilderness Inquiry opportunities and events across the country, view their website: http://www.wildernessinquiry.org/

In the New Orleans region, students and teachers have an opportunity to explore and learn about southeastern Louisiana’s coastal wetlands at the University of New Orleans Shea Penland Coastal Education and Research Facility (CERF).

NOLA studentsThese K-12 grade students engage in hands-on experience in the basic estuarine processes, coastal environmental science, and coastal restoration with a focus on the values of the wetlands and the issues that face them through field trips and workshops. In addition, the students meet and learn from the professionals at Louisiana’s State and Federal agencies and local partner organizations that protect coastal wetlands. For more information on CERF, visit their website at http://pies.uno.edu/education/cerf_coastal_education_and_research_facility_louisiana.htm

Resources are also available to teachers, parents and others, including data on water quality and health aspects of the wetlands through another partner; the Coastal Wetlands, Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act program. View curricula and other activities, including an interactive educational and entertaining CD on Louisiana wetlands here. To learn more about how these partners and CERF engage local public schools and their students, view this YouTube video.

Denver StudentsAlong the South Platte River in Denver, Colo., the Greenway Foundation motivates young public school students to engage the outdoors through environmental education programs. The Greenway River Ranger Internship Program introduces high school students to natural resource careers through environmental education training, hands-on teaching experiences with elementary students, job-readiness workshops and outdoor learning such as water quality sampling at Denver public parks along the South Platte River and its tributaries. The program aims to inspire the next generation of environmental leaders equipped with the knowledge, skills and motivation to become stewards and informed decision makers.

The Greenway Foundation has been connecting tens of thousands of Denver youth and their families to urban waterways through school based field trips, summer camps and community events through its education arm, South Platte River Environmental Education (SPREE). For more information and videos, visit their website.

Through the Urban Waters Federal Partnership and the 18 local partnerships, federal agencies are engaging America’s students in order to improve environmental and outdoor education in urban communities, allowing students to reconnect to our nation’s treasured rivers and lakes.

ED Team Visits Green Ribbon Honorees in Oregon and Washington

Catlin Gabel

On the West Coast portion of the ‘Education Built to Last’ Facilities Best Practices Tour, ED officials visited the Catlin Gabel School, in Portland, Ore., where the garden is curricular focus of middle school classes and a school-wide garden club. Each year, students have a sustainability theme woven into their curriculum.

When my colleague, Andrea Falken, director of the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS), asked me to accompany her on site visits to honored schools in Oregon and Washington, I quickly agreed. As part of the Education Built to Last Facilities Best Practices Tour, the plan was to make brief visits over three days to about a dozen schools across the Pacific Northwest, recognizing them for their outstanding environmental impact, health, and education and bringing more attention to their strategies, so that other schools might do more of the same.

As a long-time environmentalist, I was eager to learn more about how top-notch K-12 educators are helping students understand the perils that face our planet. How do these educators get the message across without scaring the kids? Do the students understand the root causes of the problems and their personal role in solving them? What books, films, experiments, and lessons are most useful? How do the best schools link environmental education with more traditional subjects such as social studies, science and math?

What I discovered in Oregon and Washington, however, surprised me. The questions that I thought were most important were, indeed, important, but it turned out they were secondary to a far more vital issue: what is the quality of leadership at each school?

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Going Green in the Golden State

Students in gardenCalifornia was proud to welcome Andrea Falken, director of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS), and other federal, state, and local officials and stakeholders for the start of the West Coast leg of this summer’s inspired Education Built to Last Facilities Best Practices Tour.

A long-time supporter of green school facilities, California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said, “I’m thrilled to see these outstanding schools showcased as part of the national tour on best practices. The students, teachers, parents, and communities have made countless efforts to improve the environmental sustainability of their campuses, increase school health as well as boost academic achievement.”

At the California Department of Education, ED-GRS is administered in School Facilities and Transportation Services, and we adhere to the time-tested architectural adage, form follows function. Our office envisions school facilities that enhance the achievement of all students and are learner-centered, safe, sustainable, and centers of the community.

Last month, several ED-Green Ribbon Schools showcased these attributes, reminding us just how much can be accomplished in the three pillars of ED-GRS, even in older and portable buildings. These schools are leading the way by ensuring students are vested partners in their education and conscious, civic-minded citizens. From composting, gardening, and recycling to xeriscaping, daylighting, and rainwater harvesting—these students get it.

Students in busTour participants visited five California ED-GRS honorees in two days. At Journey School, a Waldorf-style charter school, an eco-literacy curriculum and partnerships with Earthroots Field School and Master Gardeners of Orange County grow the whole child green—despite the school being housed on a campus comprised entirely of portable buildings.

At Environmental Charter High School, students are leaders in their community, operating a bicycle repair shop to reduce vehicle miles traveled to and from school.

At Grand View Elementary School, parents and Grades of Green founders champion Trash Free Tuesdays and Walk to School Wednesdays, things any school can do to start the cultural shift toward greener, more sustainable schools and communities.

And, at adjacent Long Beach schools Longfellow Elementary School and Hughes Middle School, recycling rules! The schools have also made huge strides to reduce their resource use and environmental impact. Although the main school buildings date to the 1940s, both earned perfect ENERGY STAR scores.

Although state bond funds have contributed $35.4 billion dollars to school construction and modernization since 1998, California is still faced with a huge need for capital investment—particularly for building renovation and replacement. The California Department of Education is working with lawmakers and other stakeholders to ensure that the next round of investment is guided by policy that links funding to educational programming, like high performance and career technical education.

Across California, schools are using the resources they have to improve efficiency, ensure health and wellness, and deliver effective and inspiring environmental curriculum. With the passage of 2012’s Proposition 39, that pool of resources is about to get bigger. Schools will have access to new funding to plan and execute energy efficiency projects. “Your capital expenditures can immediately help your General Fund,” reminded tour participant Eric Bakke of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

With Prop. 39 money coming down the pipeline and the prospect of a new statewide bond on the horizon, California is sure to see more exemplary facilities and ED-GRS honorees in the coming years.  California’s application for ED-GRS 2014 is available now on the California Department of Education Web page.

Kathleen Moore is Director of the School Facilities and Transportation Services Division, and Lesley Taylor is the program lead for ED-GRS at the California Department of Education.

Increasing Access Through U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools

I spend a lot of time thinking about students with disabilities, their families and their schools.  In fact, I believe the disability topic is a natural part of most of our work here at the U.S. Department of Education.  I really like finding the connection. Last week, I had the opportunity to travel with U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) Director Andrea Falken to visit honorees in southeast Wisconsin, where I learned that disability is, indeed, a real part of the whole ED-GRS initiative. Connected to disability? As we say in the Midwest: You betcha!

Duck Release

Students at Purdy Elementary, in Fort Atkinson School District, release the ducklings hatched in the school courtyard at their constructed boardwalk and wetland.

First, ED-GRS is about facilities. Any advocate worth their salt knows how facilities affect students with disabilities. When schools think about sustainability, it is natural to think about ways to improve accessibility, whether that means level access for a wheelchair, or natural daylight for students who are hyper-aware of the “buzz” made by fluorescent lights, or reduced chemicals for students and adults with specific sensitivities.

During our visit to Fort Atkinson School District, we visited Purdy Elementary School and the boardwalk and wetland that the school constructed across the street. The wetland was deep enough to allow life other than just cattails to thrive there. The boardwalk provides students or visitors in wheelchairs access to the teeming ecology all around. Imagine using a wheelchair and being limited to paved surfaces or buildings. With access to the wetland the biology books can come alive. To ensure level access, I suggested that the school extend the walk just a few feet on each end.

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School Facilities That Go Beyond Beige

Green Ribbon Garden

Federal, state and local officials joined stakeholders, administrators, parents, teachers and students during a tour of Bedwell Elementary School’s garden during the New Jersey/ New York leg of the ‘Education Built to Last’ Facilities Best Practices tour on August 13th.

August 13, 2013, was a big day: the ‘Education Built to Last’ School Facilities Best Practices Tour visit by the U.S. Department of Education and Environmental Protection Agency, beginning at a Staten Island ED-Green Ribbon School (Hubert Humphreys) and continuing to three ED-GRS honorees in northern New Jersey. While I drove the 70 miles to the event through pouring rain and high winds, I was secure in my belief that, at the end of the day, my feelings toward school facilities would be unchanged. After many years of designing, building, managing, reviewing, and approving school facility projects for the State of New Jersey, I believed that my “Theory of Beige” would remain intact.

The “Theory of Beige” is quite simple. At one of the school districts where I was previously employed, all the classrooms were painted beige. They were intended to be neutral and unnoticed. As long as the walls remained in their beige state, they never received criticism. They were only noticed when they became damaged from desks or chairs scuffing the paint, water leaking through the ceiling, or graffiti marring the walls. Over many years of working for the district and attending more than 200 school board meetings, I do not recall a single instance that someone praised the pristine condition of the beige walls. They did, however, complain about dented walls, dirty floors, broken lockers, and the like.

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How We Build Our Education to Last in New England

Last Monday, we were pleased to welcome the U.S. Department of Education to Providence schools, on its visit to Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts – as part of the second leg of the ‘Education Built to Last’ Facilities Best Practices Tour.  Schools like the Providence Career and Technical Academy and the Nathan Bishop Middle School function as living classrooms. They are places for great instruction about the environment, and they are models for effective, efficient, and beautiful design and construction that allow schools to reach their full potential as effective learning environments.

Providence Career and Technical AcademyFrom Providence, the multi-state delegation, including federal, state and local officials and stakeholders, traveled to three Title I schools in Connecticut, including one with a 20-acre demonstration farm on a state park within a city that succeeded in doubling test scores in just four years, also aligning its environmental education curriculum to Common Core; another with an on-site nature center, full-time park ranger, and health center; and a third, LEED Platinum facility, complete with greenhouse, planetarium, butterfly vivarium, aquatics lab and resident scientists.

Next, the group traveled to Massachusetts to visit two Collaborative for High Performance verified schools, including a high school whose ‘Green Scholars’ program students wowed their guests (including the building designer, now Rhode Island’s own facilities director) with their knowledge of their impressive school building; and another warm school community preparing students for 15 career and technical certifications in a state-of-the art facility specially equipped for automotive, construction, early learning, health sciences, broadcasting and fashion design, among other specialized programs, while still ensuring all graduates are four-year college-ready.

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Green Schools Concept Taking Root in Rural Alabama

John White in Talladega

Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach John White visited Munford Elementary in Talladega County, Ala. as part of the “Education Built to Last” tour of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools. Photo courtesy of Alabama Department of Education.

Last week, I traveled with Andrea Falken, director of the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools Program, to Talladega County public schools in the Appalachian Mountains of Alabama.

State Superintendent Tommy Bice, district staff, teachers, students and community leaders all turned out to show us why the green schools notion makes sense educationally and financially in rural areas during the first leg of the “Education Built to Last” tour of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools.

Teachers have engaged students in their own learning by connecting lessons to research and discovery in the mountains, forests and streams right outside their classroom windows. Facility improvements have saved millions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of kilowatts of electrical power, and turned school buildings into tools for learning.

Partnerships with the Forest Service, local farms and other businesses have increased students’ awareness of health and nutrition, their personal impacts on the environment, and career pathways in their local communities.

“That’s real world stuff,” said Talladega County school board member Johnny Ponder, while giving a tour of Munford Elementary, one of six U.S. Forest Service-adopted schools nationwide. Its interactive, museum-quality exhibits were produced with support from public and private sector partners. They include visual and audio information on birds, other wildlife and their habitats, fire prevention, jobs in the forest, and they are routinely used to enhance the school’s curriculum across all subject areas.

The 2013 ED-Green Ribbon Schools and District Sustainability Award winners were recognized for reducing their environmental impacts, including energy use, waste and water; creating healthy learning environments, fostering wellness practices, and providing effective environmental education that includes STEM, green careers, and civics to prepare students to succeed in the 21st century. The tour is a chance to share best practices by connecting schools to ED’s Green Strides resources. In the coming weeks, the tour will continue in New England, the Great Lakes and the West Coast.

“We want to get the word out about what works in these schools. It’s not because they are uniquely rich. They are resourceful, have great partnerships, and are using cutting-edge educational practices,” Falken said.

At Fayetteville High School in Sylacauga, Ala., students have used classroom computers to research environmental science before heading outdoors to construct and plant gardens, follow forest rangers into the marsh to test water quality and conduct other experiments with the forest service.

Like many rural schools, Winterboro High School in Alpine, Ala., is a hub of community activity. In fact, community members brought stone from the foothills in wagons pulled by mules to build the school in the 1930s. Recovery Act funds were used to purchase and install insulation in Winterboro High for the first time in 2009. Other facility improvements have led to Energy Star certification at Winterboro and 14 other Talladega County Schools for a district-wide energy cost avoidance of $4 million annually.

Today, Winterboro High is a modern 21st Century Community Learning Center that extends learning with a project-based curriculum that is infused with technology and links science, math and language arts with environmental education during the day and after school.

John White is deputy assistant secretary for rural outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

Secretary Honors 2013 ED-Green Ribbon Schools and District Sustainability Awardees

Green Ribbons AnnouncementMore than 300 people were on hand today in Washington, D.C., for a national ceremony honoring the 64 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) and the 14 recipients of the first-ever District Sustainability Award. White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Chair Nancy Sutley, Acting Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Bob Perciasepe, and Department of Agriculture Deputy Under Secretary Janey Thornton, and other senior officials from a half dozen federal agencies joined Secretary Arne Duncan to congratulate ED’s honorees on their exemplary practices. The honored schools and districts represent 29 states and the District of Columbia, and have demonstrated exemplary efforts to reduce environmental impact and costs, promote better health, and ensure effective environmental education, including STEM, green careers and civics.

Duncan congratulated the schools on their tremendous work, noting that the schools exhibit best practices to reduce costs and increase achievement, health and equity, for all schools, not just aspiring green schools.  Honorees were awarded sustainable plaques and banners, and participated in a variety of activities, including National Park Service Ranger-led National Memorial, National Building Museum Green Schools Exhibit and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Center for Weather and Climate Prediction tours, meetings with their Congressional representatives, and with various Administration officials at EPA, CEQ and ED. The list of all selected schools and districts can be found here.  More information on the federal recognition award can be found here.

Going well beyond green at the ceremony, the Secretary launched the Department’s “Education Built to Last Facilities Best Practices Tour,” which will highlight practices that states, districts and schools use to improve the overall wellness, productivity, and achievement of occupants through health, safety, and educational improvements in school facilities. “Educationally modern and rich environments are important for closing the achievement gap, as children from high poverty families need to make up for lack of opportunities in their communities during their time in school,” said Secretary Duncan.  Because the where students learn matters as much as the who and how, the Department will be visiting ED-Green Ribbon Schools and District Sustainability Awardees to highlight what schools and districts can do now to ensure that their learning facilities promote achievement, health, equity and cost savings.

This winter, all schools in participating states will have another opportunity to apply to their state education agencies in competition for states’ nominations for next year’s awards.  ED will publish 2014 criteria this summer for states to develop those competitions and will require state agencies to submit their nominees in early 2014.  Resources for all schools to move toward the three Pillars of the award can be found here.

Mark Sharoff is a member of ED’s Green Team. 

Surgeon General Tastes Healthy Schools’ Recipe in Chicago

student chefs with Surgeon General

Greene 5th grade chefs Daisy Salgado (left) and Gilberto Castaneda share healthy cooking tips with the Surgeon General and Mildred Hunter of the U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services – Region V. Photo courtesy of the Healthy Schools Campaign

Everyone wants healthy school environments, but limited funding, space and time can challenge robust plans. The Healthy Schools Campaign has helped some Chicago schools build innovative partnerships and strong parental support to work around those issues, and U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, MD, got a taste of the results during a recent visit to Chicago’s Nathanael Greene Elementary School.

During her visit, the Surgeon General chopped fresh salad greens with Greene 5th graders and volunteers, dug-in with 2nd graders planting some of those same vegetables, and teamed-up with students jump-roping and other rainy-day recess activities in the school’s limited indoor space.

“As America’s doctor, I can tell you that what you’re doing here is special,” said Dr. Benjamin to parents representing Greene and other Chicago schools of Parents United for Healthy Schools/Padres Unidos para Escuelas Saludables  – formed by HSC in 2006 to combat growing health disparities in Chicago.

Parents told the Surgeon General about after school classes like Zumba and healthy cooking they’ve helped implement in their schools. Many also helped their schools begin to serve nutritious breakfasts – now a standard throughout Chicago Public Schools.

“These activities make a difference for kids. We helped to make them happen,” said parent Jose Hernandez of Calmeca Academy Elementary School.

Local community and government leaders joined Benjamin for a lunch made of locally grown and sustainable items. The meal was developed and cooked by CPS high school chefs as part of a recent Cooking up Change competition.

“Three years ago, we began working with the district to challenge schools across the city to make changes to nutrition education, physical activity and other areas to meet the high standards of the Healthier U.S. Schools Challenge,” said Rochelle Davis, founder and executive director of HSC, which recently exceeded its initial goal of helping more than 100 Chicago schools to receive HUSSC certification. HUSSC is promoted through First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign against childhood obesity.

Healthy schools are a cornerstone of the National Prevention Strategy (NPS) to improve Americans’ health and quality of life.  Benjamin leads the NPS charge that incorporates the work of 17 federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Education, which last week announced the 2013 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools and District Sustainability Awardees that are helping to create healthy and sustainable learning environments.

Julie Ewart is the Director of Communications and Outreach for the Great Lakes Region of the U.S. Department of Education

Celebrating Sustainability on Earth Day

Duncan at Green Schools Announcement

Secretary Duncan kicked off Earth Day today by announcing the 2013 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools and District Sustainability Awardees. Official Department of Education photo by Paul Wood.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan kicked off Earth Day today by announcing the 64, 2013 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools and 14 District Sustainability Awardees during a visit to Mundo Verde Bilingual Public Charter School in Washington, D.C.  Joined by Chair of White House Council on Environmental Quality Nancy Sutley, Acting Administrator of the EPA Bob Persiacepe, and eager early learners, Duncan praised the selected schools and districts and reminded the classroom that: “Healthy, safe, educationally adequate facilities; wellness practices like outdoors physical activity and good nutrition; and environmental education are part of a vital cradle to career pipeline.”

From 29 states and the District of Columbia, this year’s honorees provide concrete examples of how all schools can reduce costs and environmental impact, promote better health and wellness; and ensure effective environmental education, including civics, STEM and green career pathways.  Among the honored schools, 54 are public, including seven charter, five magnet and four career and technical schools, and ten are private schools. More than fifty percent of the awardees serve disadvantaged populations.

In both new and aged facilities, these schools and districts are making school environments healthier, reducing waste, and saving millions of dollars in utility costs.  Students are learning outdoors, staying physically active, and preparing and consuming nutritious food to fuel their well-rounded learning.  Echoing his recent Video PSA, Secretary Duncan said that “environmental education provides a natural link to the careers of the future and to environment, technology and natural resource majors, which require creative thinking, problem solving and a strong foundation in STEM subjects.”

These schools and districts provide examples of how to excel in all of three award Pillars – whatever a school or district’s resources.  In fact, the selected districts are saving millions of dollars as a result of their greening efforts.  Read all about their exemplary, yet replicable, practices here.  Then, your school can draw on the same free tools these honorees use through the U.S. Department of Education’s Green Strides Resources and Webinar Series.

With the help of these tools, next fall you may even be eligible to apply to your state for its nomination to ED!  For next year, ED will provide 2013-2014 criteria to states in July.  State education agencies are encouraged to indicate their intent to nominate next spring by August 1, 2013 and schools and districts to contact their state agencies for more information on applications.

Watch the announcement of the 2013 Green Ribbon Schools here.

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

National Park Week…Did You Know?

Did you know that each year in April, America celebrates National Park Week, a chance to hike, learn, share, and give back in the Nation’s nearly 400 National Parks coast-to-coast? National Park Week is a chance for educators to get active and experience the powerful content knowledge, values, and skills embodied by our Nation’s remarkable cultural, natural, and recreational heritage — all for FREE!Students playing in park

This year’s National Park Week runs from April 20th to April 28th, with free admission to all national parks from Monday, April 22nd, to Friday, April 26th. There is a lot for school communities to discover about National Parks. For instance, Did Your Know…?

…That, over 250 teachers participate in a summer professional development experience called Teacher Ranger Teacher each year with the National Park Service? Teachers learn about park educational programs and resources while experiencing ranger talks, interpretive hikes, or monitoring wildlife in National Park Units.

Night Sky

…That, parks across the country will offer kid-friendly programs on National Junior Ranger Day – Saturday, April 20th. Last year, more than 800,000 children became Junior Rangers! In addition, the “Songs for Junior Rangers” CD has been awarded the Gold Seal from the Parent’s Choice Foundation in Spring 2013. The set includes a 20-page illustrated booklet of lyrics and photos, and a poster map.

…That many National Parks provide outstanding views of the night sky, and are a great place to be acquainted with our galactic neighborhood and look beyond our planet? The National Park Service has developed a Junior Ranger Night Explorer program, encouraging young park visitors to explore the dark side of their national parks.

Park ranger with students

…That Research Learning Centers (RLCs) provide the opportunity for educators to bring real-world, place-based science to students in accordance with state education standards? RLCs can help create an engaging and relevant experience for your students. In 2012, the RLCs partnered with over 200 K-12 schools and other educational organizations.

…That Hands on the Land, a national network of field classrooms, connects students, teachers, families, and volunteers to these special places all across America. Within the communities of Hands on the Land sites, public, non-profit, and private partners customize hands-on experiences using local natural, historical, and archaeological settings to bring classroom learning to life.

… That the National Park Service (NPS) is engaging in “Biodiversity Discovery,” a variety of efforts, such as bioblitzes, in which members of the public, including scientists, students, and visitors work together to discover living organisms in the parks.

Find a list of ranger-led programs and plan your adventures here. You can also use the website to share your park experiences and photos and help support parks.  Whether you are a teacher searching for classroom materials or a student doing research or service learning, find your local National Park here