Celebrating National Environmental Education Week

Yesterday we kicked off National Environmental Education Week. This year’s theme spotlights ways technology can enhance environmental learning.  Secretary of Education Arne Duncan offered his perspective in a new public service announcement to celebrate EE Week. “We know so many of the jobs of the future are in the STEM fields,” Duncan said. “There are so many great ties between STEM education and environmental education. If we really want to keep those good jobs in this country, if we want our students prepared – I think there’s no better way to start to get at that, whether it’s in 2nd grade or in 11th or 12th grade, than to get kids out in the outdoors with environmental education.”

This also includes preparing for new ideas on how to get students outdoors and learning. To help accomplish this, Duncan will announce the second annual U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools and first-ever District Sustainability Awardees on April 22nd at 10:30am EST (watch the event live). Honored schools and districts will have an important role to play modeling best practices for other schools that wish to provide an education geared toward the challenges and jobs of the future, which is why ED will release a report with case studies on each of the honorees.

Happy National Environmental Education Week and, get ready, the Ribbons are coming….!


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Andrea Falken is director of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools

Local School Communities Get Outdoors at Urban Waters Sites

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. At Partnership sites across the country, federal, state and local governments, non-profits and schools are working together to safeguard natural resources for generations to come and ensure that students receive effective environmental education.

Adminstrator Jackson with students at Scott School rain garden

Adminstrator Jackson with students at Scott School rain garden.

In the Los Angeles, Calif., Paddling and Safe Routes

The National Park Service, the LA Conservation Corps, and partners created the “Paddle the LA River” program. Over 1,000 people, including urban school children, have now kayaked or canoed the river. The National Park Service is also developing “Safe Routes to the River” that will connect Los Angeles Unified School District school sites to river gateways with enhanced trails.

In New Orleans, La., a New-Old Watershed Education Center

The Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation has raised over $1 million in private funds to rebuild a lighthouse as an educational center for water quality and water resources.  The new-old Canal Lighthouse Education Center will serve adults and children and feature interactive displays on the history of the lighthouse and the canal, the ecology of Lake Pontchartrain, and the impacts of Hurricane Katrina.

On the Anacostia River, Washington, DC, Youth Paddling and Greener Schools

As part of the Youth Paddling Program sponsored by the National Park Service, 1,000 kids from DC area schools enjoyed learning about recreational opportunities and participating in watershed education while paddling the Anacostia. Meanwhile, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation implemented low environmental impact development practices at seven schools, reducing pollution to the river and educating students about the importance of managing storm water. As part of the project, DC Greenworks, a local non-profit, engaged 150 volunteers to design and install green roofs, rain gardens, rain barrels, permeable pavement, bio-retention plantings and other storm water management technologies at schools. The lessons developed during the collaborative design process will be introduced into the schools’ curricula with the help of local non-profits.

In Denver, Colo., Youth River Rangers and a Children’s Forrest Corridor

Youth River Rangers, a green jobs pilot, gives urban youth the opportunity to sample, analyze, and map water quality, complete green jobs internships, and apply for environmental education certification.  The Greenway Foundation of Denver will oversee the scaling up of this youth training program.  In addition, with funding from the U.S. Forest Service and the EPA, Johnson-Habitat Park will soon house a children’s forest corridor for kids to explore along the South Platte River and a virtual online “base camp” to help connect youth to these outdoor recreation opportunities.

In Baltimore, Md., Career Exploration and on-the-Job Training

The U.S. Forest Service helped Maryland fund green jobs for watershed restoration, including urban youth positions with paid arboriculture training and work experience which allowed them to improve the heavily urbanized Gwynns Falls Trail.

In Portland Ore., Local School Develops a Rain Garden 

Adminstrator Jackson at Scott School

Adminstrator Jackson at Scott School

The Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership worked with the Harvey Scott School to design and build a rain garden on a school site that had been a safety hazard.  The project involved classroom visits, field trips to other sustainable stormwater sites and a community design charrette.  In addition, partners provided classroom environmental education lessons on soils, watershed, and native plants.  Students cleared the project site of weeds, dug the infiltration swale, and planted the swale and an outdoor classroom with 1,210 plants.

Across the nation, Urban Waters partners are connecting environmental practitioners to schools who help students — especially the neediest – connect to and learn about their urban waters and spark their interest in environmental careers.  These partnerships are ramping up green infrastructure efforts, engaging children in hands-on projects and the science, math, engineering and technology behind them, and providing jobs and skills to teenagers in the promising green sector.  Together, partners are revitalizing local economies, preserving precious local resources and protecting the health of the neediest.

Now that’s the kind of community partnership green schools are made of!

Read about the Urban Waters Federal Partnership.  Find resources, including partners and grants, and informational webinars to make your school community safer, healthier and more sustainable.

Colleges and Universities Lead the Way in Sustainability

A USGBC Students group at the University of California-San Diego helps to divert waste from the landfill during freshman move-in for their ‘Don’t Be Trashy’ event.

Over the past year, ED has highlighted the exemplary efforts of K-12 schools to reduce environmental impact and costs; improve health and wellness; and teach effective environmental and sustainability education. However, healthy, safe, cost-efficient facilities, practices and learning are not limited to primary and secondary educations. In many ways, colleges and universities, and their students, have been the vanguards of the sustainability movement. Here are some of the ways post-secondary institutions are making fantastic strides toward sustainability goals:

Arizona State University’s Global Institute of Sustainability offers trans-disciplinary sustainability degree programs in business, design, technology, engineering, law, humanities, social sciences, and public affairs, among other subjects.

At the University of California, Santa Barbara, students voted in 2006 to self-levy a tax of $2.60 per quarter, contributing approximately $182,000 a year toward The Green Initiative Fund.

At Portland State University in Ore., the Institute for Sustainable Solutions hosts an annual International EcoDistrict Summit. The Institute’s 2013 Solutions Generator offers awards for up to 16 groups of students to design innovative solutions to pressing sustainability issues.

The College of Lake County, in Grayslake, Ill., works to facilitate important sustainability conversations for the community through the annual County Green conference. In addition, the college offers faculty professional development courses in integrating sustainability into classes.

At Maine’s Unity College, students live in one of the first super-efficient, certified “passive house” student residence in the country, and built a campus root cellar and animal barn. Its Environmental Citizen Curriculum engages students of every major with sustainability science and environmental challenges.

At Furman University in Greenville, S.C., the Shi Center, a demonstration site for different sustainable technologies, has attracted over a dozen national and regional sponsors. With a $2.5 million Department of Energy grant, the school will replace all of its 11 aging heat pumps with ground source geothermal varieties by 2014.

At De Anza College in Cupertino, Calif., students can join one of many environmental committees and enroll in sustainability-focused classes. The college offers reduced rates on public transport and bike rentals.

In Muncie, Ind., Ball State University boasts the largest geothermal heating and cooling system of its kind in the nation. When completed, the system will allow the university to save $2 million per year in operating costs and cut its carbon footprint roughly in half.

At Sterling College in Craftsbury Common, Vt., 20 percent of food is raised and harvested by students in campus gardens, fields, farm, forests, and orchards. What products can’t be grown on campus comes from local, sustainable, organic farms. The Sterling Farm and Gardens serve as laboratories for best practices in sustainable agriculture.

These are only a few examples of two and four-year colleges and universities reducing environmental impact and costs; improving health and wellness; and graduating engaged environmental citizens. And students are taking notice: according to the Princeton Review, 68 percent of likely college applicants say a college or universities’ commitment to sustainability would affect their decision to attend.

View more resources and webinars for all schools here.  Connect with the ED-Green Ribbon Schools network on Facebook. Sign up for the ED-GRS newsletter.

Sandy Underscores Maintenance, Utility Cost Control, Schools as Shelters, and Environmental Education

While U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) honorees are outstanding examples of healthy, safe and efficient school facilities and outdoor environments, ensuring that all schools meet basic standards of health, safety, efficiency, and modernization, so that students and staff can achieve to their full potential, is our goal. The impact of Hurricane Sandy on schools underscores the importance of facilities’ maintenance and environmental health, controlling school utility costs, and schools as emergency shelters. It also highlights the need for effective environmental education.

We know that capital projects and maintenance expenditures are often scaled back when budgets are tight. The result is an accumulation of deferred maintenance, which leads to higher school operational costs and more equipment malfunctions. When maintenance is deferred in school buildings, these facilities are more vulnerable to damage from natural events. For example, a roof with old flashing, is more likely to come loose and tear off in high winds; masonry in need of repointing is at greater risk for collapse; and trees that have not been maintained are more subject to falling and damaging nearby structures.

As many of our ED-GRS honorees have discovered, by redirecting a portion of utility savings, they can undertake health and safety promoting maintenance and infrastructure improvements.  These honorees stay on top of repairs by controlling their utility costs with behavioral changes and retrofits to existing buildings. They also adhere to strict contaminant controls and other indoor environmental health standards. Because of their regular upkeep and healthy environment efforts, there are potentially fewer dangers, such as lead, chemicals, and asbestos that might contaminate debris or water, at all schools that follow Green Ribbon practices and make use of available resources, when storms hit.

The storm also reminds us of public schools’ role in their communities as vital emergency shelters and polling stations. During Sandy, New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island schools served as community evacuation centers, including 2012 ED-GRS honoree, Alder Avenue Middle School, in Egg Harbor Township, N.J., which served as an evacuation center.

Importantly, Alder Avenue and fellow ED-Green Ribbon Schools implement environmental education programs that teach students about the dynamic relationships among human, ecological, energetic, economic and social systems. This includes how human activity can cause meteorological changes on our planet. Alder Avenue takes students out of the traditional classroom setting and introduces them to tangible outdoor learning excursions. Their Catawba Project program is packed with differentiated instruction that incorporates core content standards and appeals to all students. It also is infused with character-building service-learning initiatives designed to partner middle school students with township leaders, environmentalists, parents, and community members to work together to help solve real environmental problems.

A wealth of resources is available to help inform a safe and healthy post-hurricane cleanup in our schools and communities, among them FEMA repair grants and food assistance from the USDA. In addition, there are countless tools for getting utility costs under control and teaching environmental education on the ED-GRS resources page.  Sign up for the ED-GRS newsletter or find us on Facebook.

School Lighting Upgrades Save Money, Allowing Schools to Make Health and Achievement Promoting Repairs

America’s schools spend more than $8 billion each year on energy – more than is spent on textbooks and computers combined.  About 26 percent of electricity consumed by a typical school is for lighting alone. Often, even more is spent to compensate for the heat generated by outdated lighting fixtures.  These expenditures on utilities could be redirected toward ensuring the general good condition, health, safety, and educational adequacy of school buildings, particularly for those in greatest disrepair.  If your school hasn’t updated its lighting in the past five years, a lighting retrofit could present an opportunity to reduce the amount of energy you use for lighting by 30 to 50 percent and for cooling by 10 to 20 percent.

The health benefits of lighting upgrades are both indirect and direct: cost savings generated by energy efficiency upgrades can be used toward health and safety promoting building renovations and the upgrades themselves can have positive health impacts.  For example, upgrading to newer lighting fixtures can reduce the risk of exposure to harmful contaminants, such as Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), carcinogens that can lead to a variety of adverse health effects on the immune, nervous, and endocrine systems.  Trained personnel can carefully dispose of old PCB-containing lighting fixtures and replace them with new fixtures free of PCBs.

Attention to appropriate lighting levels and an increased use of natural daylight can also improve student performance. A 2003 study found that classrooms with the most daylighting had a 20 percent better learning rate in math, and a 26 percent improved rate in reading, compared to classrooms with little or no daylighting.  Improving daylighting doesn’t have to involve a renovation.  It can be as simple as moving stacked supplies away from windows to let the natural light shine in!

Des Moines Central Campus High School in Des Moines, Iowa, a 2012 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School, improved its energy efficiency through targeted lighting upgrades, completing extensive renovations that transformed the Central Campus building from a 1918 Ford car factory into a modern educational space with energy-efficient lighting.  Renovations to the school’s facilities took advantage of available natural light and reduced the need for artificial light.

Increasing the lighting voltage – or the energy required to move the electronic charge along the circuit – from 120V to 277V helped to improve the lighting circuit efficiency. Replacing all fluorescent T12 magnetic fixtures with more energy-efficient T8 fixtures improved the quality and efficiency of the lighting. Finally, sensors installed in the school eliminated energy waste in unoccupied areas.

As of 2012, these and other improvements have helped Des Moines Central Campus to reduce its energy use by 28 percent compared to a 2008 baseline. The school regularly tracks its energy performance using Portfolio Manager, EPA’s free ENERGY STAR measurement and tracking tool.  As a result of Des Moines Central Campus High School’s success in reducing environmental impact and costs, the school earned the ENERGY STAR from the EPA.  This work in Pillar I, coupled with its efforts to improve health and wellness and provide effective environmental and sustainability education made it a 2012 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School.

To learn more about how efficiency upgrades can save your school energy costs and allow it to address critical facilities health and safety, ensuring students have a fair shot at performing at their best, visit Energy Star for Schools and the ED-GRS resources page.  Hundreds of schools across the country are proving that you do not have to wait to improve the quality of your school facilities.  Lighting upgrades are but one way that energy efficiency upgrades and the cost savings they produce can support healthy, safe, and high achievement promoting school environments.

Andrea Falken is director of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools

ED-Green Ribbon Schools Inspire Other Schools

At the inaugural ED-Green Ribbon Schools awards ceremony, the 78 winning schools were given an important homework assignment.  Each school was challenged to return to their community and adopt a future green school.  These partnerships will help to share best practices in reducing schools’ environmental impact and cost; improving health and wellness; and providing effective environmental and sustainability education. Several 2012 ED-Green Ribbon Schools have already begun to work with schools in their communities:

  • Longfellow Elementary School in Long Beach, California has partnered with a local middle school to form a green schools coalition in order to disseminate good practices to area schools.
  • Hilltop Elementary in Wheeling, West Virginia has created Sustainable Schools Learning Kits for area schools through the use of a $54,000 grant from an anonymous donor.
  • Fishburn Park Elementary School in Roanoke, Virginia participates in a “Green Spot” on a local radio station and previously filmed a segment on “what it takes to be green” for Blue Ridge Public Television. Summer school students weed a neighboring middle school’s garden through the summer, getting a practical lesson on being a good neighbor.
  • Grand View Elementary School in Manhattan Beach, California has received visits from three local principals interested in replicating their greening efforts.
  • At Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C. students work with children at Brightwood Elementary School, Phoebe Hearst Elementary, and St. Coletta’s, a school for students with developmental disabilities.

As you can see, the work is never done for ED-Green Ribbon Schools. In addition to inspiring tomorrow’s biologists, chemists, nutritionists, and engineers, ED-Green Ribbon Schools also have the job of inspiring tomorrow’s green schools. Learn more about the work ED-Green Ribbon Schools are doing in their communities here.  Find resources to help move toward the three Pillars of the award here.  Connect with ED-GRS on Facebook.

Kyle Flood

Indoor Air Quality Management Helping to Improve Academic Achievement

Every school district values educational achievement, low absentee rates, high grades and test scores, and an active and engaged student body. To achieve these aims, schools across the country are focusing on creating healthy indoor environments.

With two 2012 ED-Green Ribbon Schools located in my district, I am excited to share the story of Omaha Public Schools (OPS) in Nebraska in creating healthy indoor environments for our students. Our school district has proactively addressed student environmental health issues for the past 13 years and has also earned EPA’s IAQ Tools for Schools awards.

EPA’s Framework for Effective School

This is an image of EPA’s Framework for Effective School IAQ Management. Click on the image for a larger, interactive version of the Key Drivers.

To ensure a healthy indoor school environment—a critical Element of Pillar Two of the ED-GRS award—OPS implemented EPA’s IAQ Tools for Schools Framework for Effective School IAQ Management. This helped our district organize an effective IAQ management program that was tailored to meet our needs, and effectively communicate best practices and concerns with building and grounds departments, facilities and maintenance staff members, administrators, teachers and parents. Communication with the school community is one of the most important steps to ensuring a successful and sustainable IAQ management program.

Recent research has demonstrated that poor IAQ can affect the health and comfort of students by causing allergy and asthma attacks, headaches, tiredness, and other symptoms, making it difficult for students to concentrate and excel in school. To assess IAQ concerns, OPS conducted school walkthroughs to detect: nuisance odors; radon and other source contaminants; chemical exposure; and asthma triggers including dust, mold growth and vehicle exhaust. We used checklists in EPA’s IAQ Tools for Schools Action Kit to plan how to address IAQ concerns, including problems that could be fixed relatively easily and those to be incorporated into a long-term IAQ management plan.

Another key component of our IAQ management plan is to evaluate the impact our program has on student and staff health, productivity and performance. OPS found a decrease in the frequency and severity of asthma attacks with the implementation of our plan. By collecting data, we were also able to effectively communicate the results of our program and secure buy-in among school administrators.

An easy way to take action is to reach out to mentor school districts to learn about IAQ management best practices and form partnerships within your community. The Omaha Public School District has partnered with several other organizations and programs including state and local agencies, which is a fun and engaging way to improve and refine your school’s IAQ management program.

I am proud to be a part of Omaha Public Schools’ success over the past 13 years; we have overcome challenges and created a green and healthy learning environment for our students.

Shelley R. Bengtson, Environmental Specialist, Omaha Public Schools, Nebraska

ED-Green Ribbon Schools Preparing Graduates for Green Careers

Many ED-Green Ribbon Schools use an inquiry-based approach that allows students to engage with the environment, sustainability, and their community through real life application.  This week, we look at how high schools are preparing their graduates for future careers in natural resource conservation, clean energy generation, and medical and biological sciences.

At Wyoming County Career and Technical Center in Pineville, W. Va., the school is offering the following classes: Building Construction designs energy efficient modular homes; Diesel Technology manufactures biodiesel; Electrical Technology retrofits golf carts; Automotive Technology recycles used oil; Welding developed an electronics recycling program; and Industrial Equipment Technology designed and installed a 42-panel solar power system atop their school building.

At Clarkston High School in Clarkston, Mich., students reuse a local refrigeration design company’s scrap and waste insulation in their prototyping, modeling and aerodynamic analyses.  They also refurbish 55 gallon drums into rain barrels, design commercial structures and homes using Habitat for Humanity guidelines, and design, build, and test circuits to power electrical devices from donated solar panels.

At A.W. Beattie Career and Technical Center in Allison Park, Pa. science students grow herbs and vegetable seedlings to supply the culinary program, cosmetology students study chemical usage and disposal, automotive students study environmental regulations, and the carpentry program designed a pavilion for a local elementary school and bird and bat houses for the campus.

At Gladstone High School in Gladstone, Ore., Environmental Leadership, Ecology and Renewable Energy courses focus on reducing the environmental footprint of the school and community through project based learning on sustainability topics.  Culinary Arts covers sustainable and local food; Drafting explores energy efficiency in buildings; Computer Technology teaches electronics recycling; Environmental Science examines native habitat restoration; and Biology follows how resource management affects food chain sustainability.

At Des Moines Central High School, in Des Moines Iowa, Home Building students use recycled materials to turn old bleachers into hardwood flooring; Aviation salvages old jets and helicopters; Welding recycled over 43,000 pounds of scrap metal in 2011; Design students study sustainability principles and devise constructions that incorporate LEED criteria; and  Horticulture students offer their landscaping services throughout the campus.

At The Athenian School in Danville, Calif, students produce school bus biodiesel in their science labs, learn permaculture garden techniques, harvest and press olives, construct an aircraft, design robotics, and previously converted a car to electric power.

These are just a few examples of how 2012 ED-Green Ribbon Schools are using environment and sustainability to prepare students for the green careers of the future. To learn more about their innovative practices, see highlights from their applications.  Also register for any of several Green Strides Webinar Series green career-focused sessions featuring U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Agriculture, NASA and Department of the Interior experts and programs!

Kyle Flood is a confidential assistant in ED’s Office of the General Counsel and a member of the ED Green Team

For ED-Green Ribbon Schools, It’s Quite Organic to Teach Civics!

“A foundation in civics is not a luxury but a necessity,” Secretary Duncan said earlier this year. “Students today absolutely need a sense of citizenship…they need to know their rights–and their responsibilities. Civics cannot be pushed to the sidelines in schools.”

Earlier this year, ED released a Road Map and Call to Action to ensure that today’s youth are educated to become informed, engaged, and effective citizens. At many of the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS), integrated civic education begins early; it lies at the core of robust environmental, STEM and green technology education. The 2012 ED-GRS honorees are using experiential service learning on sustainability topics to hone students’ core subject knowledge and to cultivate deep ties with their communities:

  • In St. Louis, Crossroads College Preparatory School students contributed over 4,000 hours of community service in the local area, partnering with 16 nonprofits that focus on environmental issues. Activities included growing organic food, recycling and reusing bikes, restoring native habitats, removing invasive species, and constructing rain gardens.
  • In Allison Park, Pa., the A.W. Beattie Career Center Carpentry program designed, constructed and donated an energy efficient model home to the Pennsylvania gaming commission.
  • Students at the Learning Gate Community School in Lutz, Fla., send the produce from their garden to a community organization that feeds the homeless, donating over 2200 pounds in the 2009-2010 school year.
  • Fishburn Elementary School in Roanoke, Va., collects gently worn clothing and goods and holds an annual environmental fashion show and resale to showcase the items, raising money for future environmental activities.
  • At Environmental Charter High School, in Lawndale, Calif., students research and present their findings to elected officials, helping authorities to adopt environmentally and cost effective policies.

You see, for ED-Green Ribbon Schools it’s quite organic that students use environment and sustainability concepts to engage with their community.  Honorees have long understood what ED’s 2012 civic road map highlights – that civic learning not only promotes civic skills and attitudes, but also builds twenty-first century competencies and increases student and community engagement.  The civics projects of 2012 ED-Green Ribbon Schools can be implemented by any school to improve student outcomes.

De’Rell Bonner works in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach

ED-Green Ribbon Schools Gets a Facelift for 2012-2013

Now that the 2012 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools are recognized, the Department has refined the selection guidance it provides to state nominating authorities to make for a smoother competition for states and schools in the second year.  The award was created to recognize high-achieving schools striving for 21st century excellence by:

1)     Reducing environmental impact and costs;

2)     Improving the health of schools and wellness of students and staff; and

3)     Providing effective environmental and sustainability literacy, incorporating STEM, civic skills and green career pathways.

For ED-GRS 2012-2013, ED implemented suggestions from stakeholders and partners to improve the site and nomination infrastructure, especially the following:

    • 2012-2013 Criteria explain the program’s purpose, vision, eligibility, requirements and the Department’s authority for creating such an award.
    • Each state or nominating authority is assigned a maximum number of possible nominees.
    • An updated Resources page serves as a clearinghouse for hundreds of programs, grants and tools in all areas of the award.
    • A Framework provides recommended measures by which to evaluate schools and select nominees to ED for eligible nominating authorities.
    • The Sample Application is offered as another optional tool for nominating authorities to assist them in selecting schools.

ED encourages state education agencies to use the following dates to guide their nominee selection:

September:  States begin selection processes.

February 15: States submit nominees to ED.

April 22:  ED announces honorees.

June 3: ED honors selectees at a ceremony in Washington, DC.

Already, over 30 states have indicated their intent to nominate schools for the 2012-2013 year.

While the award is designed to highlight and communicate the innovative practices by just a few exemplary schools, all schools may sign up for the Green Strides Webinar Series to connect with resources and programs available to them. The series aims to provide all schools the tools they need to reduce their costs and environmental impact; improve health and wellness; and provide effective environmental and sustainability education.  To learn more about the 2012 ED-GRS cohort’s exemplary practices, read Highlights from the 2012 Honorees and a Snapshot of the 2012 Cohort.

Connect with ED-GRS on Facebook.  Sign up for ED-Green Ribbon Schools updates here.

ED-Green Ribbon Schools Prove that Every Month is Right for Getting Outdoors

Young boy holds a worm

A young boy examines an earthworm. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

President Obama designated June Great Outdoors Month to encourage Americans to take advantage of our rich, natural and cultural outdoor resources while being active outdoors.  Fortunately, the first group of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools provides us many examples of innovative approaches to getting students active and learning outdoors year-round.

For example, at Evergreen Charter School in Asheville, N.C., the adventure physical education program includes rock climbing, white water rafting, camping and backpacking. At Thomas J. Waters Elementary in Chicago, students go on lengthy walks, dig potatoes, gather seeds and leaves, go fishing in Lake Michigan, and participate in organized runs. At North Shore Community School in Duluth, Minn., and Fishburn Elementary in Roanoke, Va., students tap maple trees every winter to enjoy with their breakfast.

The list goes on including schools that boast organic gardens, birdhouses built by students, an urban peach orchard, ponds, and even a native medicine wheel garden in Wahpeton, N.D.

Other ED Green Ribbon schools are encouraging students to get outdoors in their daily commute.  At Grand View Elementary in Manhattan Beach, Calif., students are rewarded with hand stamps on Walk to School Wednesdays. Likewise, Bernard High School in Bernardsville, N.J. obtained a $300,000 Safe Routes to School Grant to build a sidewalk, helping more students in the community to commute safely on foot.  Environmental Charter High School students in Lawndale, Calif., operate a bike repair shop encouraging more students and staff to cycle rather than drive.

These schools are taking advantage of a wealth of free teaching materials to assist them in outdoor curriculum development, including resources like:

And while schools may place an emphasis on outdoor, hands-on learning, parents can also teach these skills in their own garden or with a backyard campout.

Though June is National Outdoors Month, every month is a good time to teach students with hands-on and physical activities outdoors!  Using the outdoors helps keep a child’s mind and body actively engaged in critical academic subjects. If we want to ensure that students are healthy, high performing and prepared for the challenges of the next century, they’ll need to stay fit and connected to the land.

Stay tuned to ED-GRS’ biweekly blogspot for more examples of how schools can use environment to teach green technologies, STEM and civic skills, as well as reduce school costs and improve student health.  For now, ED’s facilities, health and environment ‘Green Team’ wishes all students and teachers a wonderful summer of outdoor exploring!

School Garden Plants Sense of Community

At Cherry Hill Alternative High School in Cherry Hill, N.J., great educations are made with soil, seeds, and sunshine.

The school, which serves 44 students, is devoted to “academic rigor, character education, career exploration and workplace readiness,” according to its vision statement. In 2010, Cherry Hill Alternative High School had established internships and financial literacy programs to support this vision. Students were required to complete service hours, which, up until then, had happened off campus.

This ideal sowed a new seed.  Planted three years ago, the community garden initially functioned as an on-site alternative to the school’s service learning requirement. Because the high school is housed in the same building as Cherry Hill Public School District administrative offices, students sometimes felt that they lacked ownership of their environment.

The garden at Cherry Hill Alternative High School

At Cherry Hill Alternative High School in Cherry Hill, N.J., great educations are made with soil, seeds, and sunshine.

“We wanted to build a sense of pride in our school campus,” said Dr. Neil Burti, Cherry Hill’s Principal. Today, 12 students now tend the garden: school pride grows alongside lettuce, onions, tomato, kale, and cucumbers.

Since its first harvest the garden has blossomed into more than a school beautification project. Although the school originally planned to donate its produce to the local food bank, FDA regulations caused it to till the soil in a different direction.

Today, the high school intends to partner with Spring Hills Cherry Hill, a nearby nursing home and assisted living community with a garden of its own.

The garden also has become essential to the high school’s science curriculum, which explores biology alongside environmental education and sustainability.

When speaking at the Green School National Network Conference in Denver, Secretary Duncan said that “green schools and environmental literacy… complement the goals of providing a well-rounded education for the 21st century, of modernizing schools at reduced costs, and of accelerating learning.”

Paul Arno, a science teacher at Cherry Hill Alternative school, uses the garden extensively as a classroom. For example, in one lesson, students are asked to sketch factors in the ecosystem.

“They get the picture along with the words,” said Arno. “Students can know it on one level, but when they see it [in action], they really start to get it.”

The garden is part of Cherry Hill Township’s sustainability effort to raise student awareness of environmental issues, according to Arno. By facilitating science lessons such as “Looking Toward the Future” and offering work in the garden, the school fosters a community based on social responsibility, respect for the environment, and hands-on learning.

Through a recent grant provided by the Cherry Hill Education Foundation, the school purchased a composter. Along with the garden’s rain barrel, it helps students learn firsthand the essential components of fully sustainable food sources.

“The garden makes it real to them,” said Arno.

Meredith Bajgier is a public affairs specialist in ED’s Philadelphia regional office.