“Where we learn matters” is the mantra of the Center for Green Schools; it reminds us that healthier, more sustainable schools are not a luxury, but a necessity.
On the evening of Wednesday, June 3, more than 325 green schools champions came together for a reception honoring the 2015 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools awardees. Working alongside U.S. Senator Patty Murray, the Center for Green Schools hosted the event to celebrate the enormous success of the ED-Green Ribbon Schools Award and recognize this year’s honorees for their outstanding accomplishments. Members of Congress and their staff were also in attendance to congratulate their constituents.
With a room full of sustainability leaders and education pioneers, success stories abounded and were exchanged along with tips and strategies for implementation of the three pillars of a green school. In order to receive recognition as an ED-Green Ribbon School, a candidate must demonstrate minimized building impact and costs, improved occupant health and wellness, and effective environmental education. Although not every winning school was able to attend the event—81 schools from 26 different states in total were awarded—those who were able to join were provided with a unique opportunity to share stories with others doing similar work around the country.
One of these stories happened to be about the major turn-of-events for Discovery Elementary in Washington State, which particularly struggled with managing food and waste. As a Title I school, over 75 percent of their students receive free or reduced cost lunches. Paradoxically, every month, the school was disposing of an excessive amount of waste. In order to combat these challenges, Discovery Elementary adopted two major sustainability initiatives: an interactive waste management assembly and a student-run garden. By educating students on the importance of recycling, composting, and reusing natural resources, Discovery Elementary students saved their district over $6,000 in garbage removal costs. The school garden provides students with bags of fruits and vegetables to take home to their families.
On behalf of the staff and faculty members of Discovery Elementary, educator Laurie James says, “The impact of being a greener school speaks volumes. Students are taking ownership and pride of their community while working together for a bigger purpose. Students love the fresh foods and are making better snack choices at home and at school. I love how environmental activities seem to snowball into bigger and better things. And after the celebration in DC, we have more ideas that make a difference in our children’s lives in our corner of the country."
From this story and others, one thing is very clear: the students deserve the recognition more than anyone. That’s what the reception was all about—discussing how every school’s student body was able to learn in an environmentally-friendly, healthy institution in order to contribute to the wellbeing of their respective communities. In other words, to celebrate the fact that green schools are, themselves, pillars in supporting a healthy, sustainable community.