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!
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.
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.
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.
From 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.
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.
More 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.
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 UnidosparaEscuelasSaludables — 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.
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.
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!
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.
…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.
…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
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….!
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.
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
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!
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:
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.
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.