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.

First U.S Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools Recognized

ED staff prepare green ribbon sign

Staff from the Department of Education prepare a Green Ribbon sign before today's event.

Today marked another historic milestone for the green schools movement, as the 78 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools announced during Earth Week were recognized at a national ceremony in Washington, DC.  Secretary Arne Duncan joined EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley and U.S Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin in congratulating the honorees for their exemplary practices.

The winning schools, diverse in the student populations, and representing 29 states and the District of Columbia, all took a comprehensive approach to greening their schools, making strides to reduce their schools’ environmental impact, improve health and provide education geared toward the sustainability challenges of the 21st century.

Green Ribbon CeremonyDuncan congratulated the schools on their tremendous work, noting their practices to improve student achievement, increase student engagement and provide effective professional development are practices that all should follow, not just aspiring green schools.

While all the selected schools have outstanding stories, Secretary Duncan highlighted Arabia Mountain High School in Lithonia, Ga.,, which requires every student take AP Environmental Science, and is exceeding state and county assessment scores.  At Lothrop Technology Magnet School in Omaha, Neb., school gardens, and complementary practices such as composting, are a critical tool to getting even the youngest students learning and experiencing science first-hand.

ED released a document with highlights and success stories from the 2012 honorees. The Secretary also announced the first installment of the Green Strides Webinar Series, to help all schools move toward reduced environmental impact, improved health and effective sustainability literacy, the three ‘Pillars’ of the award.

Honorees were awarded Forest Stewardship Council and Green Guard certified plaques and biodegradable banners made of recycled bottles. This winter, all schools in participating states will have another opportunity to apply to their state education agencies in competition for state’s nominations for next year’s awards.  ED will publish 2013 criteria this summer for states to develop those competitions and will require state agencies to submit their nominees in early 2013.  Sixteen states have already indicated their intent to nominate schools in the next round of the recognition award competition.

Watch today’s U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools award ceremony.

April “School Days” Highlights Potential Increase in Student Loan Rate

In the just-released April 2012 edition of “School Days,” the monthly video journal of the U.S. Department of Education, President Obama calls for quick action by the Congress to avoid a dramatic increase in the interest rate for Federal college loans; Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announces the first-ever awards in the new U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools program; and a the Blueprint for Career and Technical Education outlines the Administration’s plans for transforming the programs that prepare students of all ages for the workplace of today.  And there’s much, much more.  Watch “School Days.”

Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Seventy-Eight Schools are First-Ever U.S. Dept of Education Green Ribbon Schools

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joined White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley & EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson earlier today to announce the first-ever U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools, a list including 78 schools that span 29 states & D.C.

Check out what people are saying about the announcement:

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Presenting the First Green Ribbon Schools

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

Today I had the honor to name 78 schools as the first-ever U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools. When we set out a year ago to recognize comprehensive achievement in the areas of environmental impact, health and education, we didn’t know about the quality of the applications we would receive. But we discovered that these schools are engaging in some of the most innovative school reforms anywhere. These approaches are enabling the schools to reduce their environmental impact and costs; improve student health; and ensure that graduates are prepared to face the great challenges of the 21st century.

US Dept of ED Green Ribbon School logoTo save energy and decrease their environmental impact, the winning schools are using a range of methods. Many purchase renewable energy and generate it on school premises. One boasts the world’s largest closed loop geothermal heating and cooling system and another features the nation’s first off-grid solar and wind powered school. We’re honoring schools that use green roofs, pervious pavement, rain gardens, rain barrels, rain cisterns and low-flow water equipment of all types. At some of the winners, the buses run on ultra-low sulfur diesel, compressed natural gas or the discarded cooking oils of local restaurants. Their conservation efforts extend from the cafeteria to the classroom, as they devise reusable snack bags and water bottles; dine with reusable plates, napkins and utensils for meals; and save paper by converting to digital assignments and grading.

To keep students healthy and engaged in learning, there are almost as many innovative ideas as there are winning schools. Kids are outside climbing ropes, kayaking, orienteering and learning in their outdoor classrooms. They’re reading ‘on the green,’ conducting GPS mapping studies of creeks, performing water quality testing, creating and maintaining trails, tapping maple trees, reconstructing wetlands and going on wilderness adventures. Many students are growing their own food – with vegetable gardens, herb gardens, colonial gardens, organic gardens, butterfly gardens, aquaponic gardens, salad gardens, pizza gardens, lasagna gardens and Native American medicine wheel gardens – as well as fruit trees, berry patches, peach orchards and olive groves. They’re preparing their harvest in the kitchen, learning about its nutritional value in the classroom, and sending many pounds of produce to local food pantries. Winning schools are also ensuring that kids’ health is protected in other ways, by using certified green cleaning products, for example, or by posting “no idling” signs in the driveways and parking lots.

Today’s winners are also providing a comprehensive environmental education that is essential to help students become good citizens, prepared for life and work in the 21stcentury global economy. They are learning health, science, sustainable agriculture and business acumen by caring for their chickens, bunnies, goats, fish, ducks and bees. They tend to trout and salmon in the cassroom, on-site forests, ponds and lakes, or find ones nearby to adopt. Older students take Ecology, Environmental Leadership, Horticulture, Biology, Renewable Energy and AP Environmental Science. Students are learning green technologies, renewable energy and sustainability by converting cars to electric power and designing solar panels, solar cars and wind generators. Students are constructing energy efficient modular homes, retrofitting diesel engines, producing biofuel, welding recycled scrap metal and assembling robots.

It’s important to note that these schools represent a cross section of America. Almost half of the honored schools are serving disadvantaged students. Several of the winners serve American Indians; others’ enrollments are two-thirds Hispanic and another is 98 percent African American. Several dozen are high poverty where more than half of students receive free and reduced priced lunch.

Today we are shining the spotlight on 78 terrific and innovative schools, but our real aim is more ambitious. We don’t want just pockets of excellence – we want success to be the norm. All our children deserve green schools, as all our students deserve a healthy, sustainable and prosperous future.

Arne Duncan is Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education

A Coming of Age Moment

Secretary Arne Duncan visited the Green Schools National Conference in Denver yesterday, where he praised the 1,500 educators in attendance for their commitment to greening our schools, developing environmental literacy, and nurturing stewardship and an ethic of sustainability in our students.

Duncan Speaks at the Green Ribbon EventArne called the gathering “a coming of age moment for the green movement in our schools,” declaring that the movement had matured to the point that environmental concerns were no longer viewed as anything less than essential.

“In the past, skeptics of green schools and the value of environmental literacy have claimed that reducing our ecological footprint and increasing understanding of the environment was a kind of zero-sum game,” Arne said.  “Green schools and environmental literacy in fact complement the goals of providing a well-rounded education for the 21st century, of modernizing schools at reduced costs, and of accelerating learning.”

Arne pointed out how green schools nurture unique skills and knowledge that matter more than ever in today’s global economy.

Reducing disease, developing renewable sources of energy, curbing pollution, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions are no longer challenges that stop at our borders.  America simply cannot meet any of these challenges without collaborating with other countries. And those partnerships will require U.S. students to develop better critical thinking, a deeper understanding of science and sustainability, and a greater awareness of ecosystems and energy efficiency.

The conference attendees included principals and teachers, school board members, facility and energy managers, school nutrition professionals, students, and others, as well as representatives of environmentally-focused national organizations.  Arne thanked them for their advocacy and support for the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools program, which he noted has inspired a variety of federal and state agencies to work together in innovative ways to help schools reduce their environmental impact, save energy, promote better health, and develop environmental literacy.

“Your movement is helping not only to change the culture of our schools for the better, but the culture of the Department of Education,” he said.

Read Secretary Duncan’s speech and sign up here for email updates from ED’s Green Ribbon Schools.

Find resources to green your school and learn about ED-GRS.
See U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools blogs.
Connect with U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools on Facebook.

Please note: U.S. 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.

A Green Revolution for All

Two weeks from today, Secretary Duncan will take the stage at the Green Schools National Conference in Denver, providing a high note at what is fast becoming the largest annual meeting of the green schools movement. The Secretary and other distinguished speakers, including Deputy Undersecretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Janey Thornton, mayors from several cities, and business leaders representing companies from Stonyfield Farm to Siemens, will address the green schools movement and how it can strengthen our economy, revitalize our schools and ensure access to green school benefits for all.

The Secretary’s appearance and the growing popularity of this conference signal a new milestone in green schools, coinciding with the inaugural year of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) program. ED’s new Environmental Justice Strategy explains how ED-GRS is just one initiative supporting a goal at the very heart of ED’s mission: assuring equal educational opportunity for every student. ED-GRS, among other initiatives, helps suggest ways to address the adverse health and environmental conditions that disproportionately affect student achievement among minority and low-income populations.

Over the past months, we’ve all seen how ED-GRS is encouraging state education agencies and school communities to consider the intersection of environment, health and education; putting a range of existing resources in one place for their use; and facilitating experts to help schools become healthier, safer and easier on the environment.

For this reason, ED-GRS plays an important part in ED’s Environmental Justice Strategy, responding to a Presidential Executive Order, which explains how the Department’s policies, programs, and activities aim to increase access for all to healthy, safe and high-achievement promoting environments. The strategy is available for public comment through March 26th and is one of several initiatives in which ED takes part, including America’s Great Outdoors and the Urban Waters Federal Partnership, to make good on the President Obama’s commitment to healthy environments and sustainable economies for all Americans.

The draft strategy makes it plain that the green schools movement, with its focus on environment, health, economy and education aims to do more than help our economy and nation grow sustainably.  Just as importantly, this veritable green schools revolution is helping to ensure fairness and opportunity for all of our nation’s students. 

Comment on ED’s draft Environmental Justice Strategy.

See all U.S. Department of Education environment blogs.

Connect with U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools on Facebook.

Please note:  U.S. 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.