South Florida’s Green Schools Forecast? Warm, Sunny, Healthy and Here to Stay!

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.

On Sept. 4, 2014, the School District of Palm Beach County was proud to welcome Andrea Falken, Director of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS), and other federal, state, and local officials and stakeholders for this year’s “Healthy Schools, High-Achieving Students” Green Strides Best Practices Tour. Visitors were offered a unique view of how Palm Beach County is helping to grow Florida’s up-and-coming green generation, through local collaboration and district-wide programming.

Pine Jog Elementary in West Palm Beach, Fla. (Photo credit: School District of Palm Beach County)

Pine Jog Elementary, in West Palm Beach, Fla. (Photo credit: School District of Palm Beach County)

The tour began at a 2012 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School, Pine Jog Elementary, in West Palm Beach. Over 80 visitors were welcomed by the District’s Superintendent, E. Wayne Gent.He shared with the group our commitment to build and maintain green and healthy schools to foster high-achieving students.Visitors were treated to a choral presentation of “We’re Goin’ Green,” underscoring that all schools have an opportunity to conserve resources, improve efficiency, ensure health and wellness, and deliver inspiring environmental curriculum. Walking tours of the school highlighted all facets of this unique green school, from its pesticide-free gardens, outdoor creative learning centers, and overall sustainability curriculum, to its state-of-the-art LEED Gold certified building.

At the adjacent Pine Jog Environmental Education Center, part of Florida Atlantic University’s College of Education, visitors heard the inspiring story of their partnership. FAU President, Dr. John Kelly, emphasized his support for the District’s efforts to plant the seeds of sustainability in every Palm Beach County student. They also learned about a program central to furthering green schools efforts in Palm Beach County – the district’s Green Schools Recognition Program. The program recognizes and rewards schools for taking an innovative and holistic approach to going green and acts as a feeder program for state and national recognition.

The listening session brought together the district’s major division directors, as well as several principals, architects, and partners. For Palm Beach, green schools go far beyond buildings. They are creative centers of learning which promote sustainable practices, encourage health and wellness for their students and staff, and provide strong connections between the built and natural environments for all students, whatever their needs.

After a healthy lunch, visitors toured the newest green school in the district, Galaxy E3 Elementary, in Boynton Beach. Through dynamic leadership and strong community partnerships, Galaxy is not only the first school campus in Florida to target LEED Platinum status, but also offers its needy student population the most engaging STEM resources available, including a planetarium and aquarium, as well as other museum-quality displays, designed to hook kids on science.

To conclude the day’s event, I was honored to join the city’s mayor, Jeri Muoio, and the District’s Chief of Support Operations, Steve Bonino, in offering closing thoughts at the Lake Pavilion, another LEED construction. Here in Palm Beach County, we believe that all schools can make green strides through careful planning, maintenance, and operation, as well as through thoughtful integration of environmental principles into the curriculum. Whether they are in new or old buildings, all children deserve healthy schools to give them the best chance of being high-achieving students.

Christina Davis is the Sustainability Coordinator for the School District of Palm Beach County.