Note: U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools recognizes schools, districts and postsecondary institutions that are 1) reducing environmental impact and costs; 2) improving health and wellness; and 3) teaching environmental education. To share innovative practices in these three ‘Pillars,’ the Department conducts an annual Green Strides Best Practices Tour of honorees.
Shifting the culture of Broward schools through strong partnerships was the theme of the Broward portion of the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) Green Strides Best Practices tour in south Florida on Sept. 5. Within the school system, our partners and priorities include transportation, facilities and construction, environmental conservation and utility management, information and technology, health and wellness, food and nutrition services and curriculum integration district offices. Our external partners, including our state, county and local municipalities and businesses, were also featured along the tour.
In Broward, we’ve made recognizing and celebrating our shared successes a crucial part of our sustained green strides effort. Broward honors schools with district-wide “P3: Preserving our Planet for Posterity” recognition awards, and also this helps identify candidates for the state and national awards. The P3 awards are jointly managed and funded by Broward Schools, Broward County Division of Environmental Planning and Community Resilience, and a consortium of environmental educators, the Environmental Conservation Organization (ECO).
During our tour, we showcased strong Broward community teamwork, beginning as visitors boarded the eco-friendly, propane-fueled yellow school bus. Broward County Public Schools recently upgraded our bus fleet with the purchase of 98 Bluebird AutoGas buses. Each bus is cheaper to operate and emits 150,000 fewer pounds of carbon dioxide than a diesel-fueled bus over its lifetime.
At the first stop, Silver Ridge Elementary students shared how they connect with their local environment and its unique place in the history of Florida through their annual “Tan-a-kee-kee” festival. Students in every grade connect with the Earth as they learn about local Native American cultures and how their values and practices can help enrich and inform sustainability practices today.
The tour stopped next at Driftwood Middle School, a 2013 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School, where students exemplify the “Healthy Schools: High-Achieving Students” theme as an Academy of Health and Wellness. During gym classes, they monitor their own heart rates, study math in the garden, conduct energy audits and monitor their hydroponic system for a balance of nutrients. Students also experience a hands-on integrated curriculum that helps prepare them as environmental health and wellness stewards for the community.
South Plantation High School’s session highlighted the many levels of partnership that are required for success in a large district with diverse needs. Everyone in attendance learned at least one new best practice from the thirteen speakers representing each of the three pillars of ED-GRS, and nearly ever district division. Food and Nutrition’s healthy, fresh and local food program and Student Health Services’ asthma awareness education were featured, along with energy and water use reduction and the communication partnership with Information and Technology. The visit featured a student-led tour of the Everglades and Environmental Sciences magnet programs – including environmental research, horticulture, animal science, agricultural science and a spin around the bus loop by the award-winning Solar Knights’ solar car.
We ended our day at Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, part of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) state park system, where New River Middle Marine Sciences Magnet Middle School students spend their days conducting scientific research to better understand their local environment with the assistance of the DEP program Project LIFE – Learning in Florida’s Environment and the NOAA-funded Project GLOBE (Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment). These students enthusiastically shared their work and correlated their measurements to the newly installed weather station. As Greg Ira, DEP Director, Office of Environmental Education and Sustainable Initiatives, says, “There is no better place to learn about environmental and sustainability education than Florida’s State Parks. We applaud the commitment of Broward County Schools for bringing students to these unique places for real-world learning experiences right in their own backyard.”
Perhaps best of all, what these students learn in their own backyard, they can take with them wherever they go, and practice over the course of a lifetime.
Dr. Lisa Ventry Milenkovic is Science Curriculum Supervisor, Math, Science & Gifted Department, Instruction and Intervention Division, Broward County Public Schools.