Over the past five years, I have had the task of breathing life into our U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS), growing the award to recognize not just schools, but also districts, postsecondary institutions, and state education agency officials, and to encompass social media, newsletter, resource and webinar portal, and annual tour, in addition to recognition award. At the same time, participating stakeholders, feds, states, districts, and schools have taught me about sustainable schools — and sustainable living.
Welcoming the other “Baby Green Ribbon” turned out to be a lesson in letting go and in living in accordance with the Pillars of our award. It was only natural that I implement our Pillars as I prepared for his arrival. We skied, swam, practiced yoga, hit the gym, and hiked through the pregnancy (including the day he was born). I investigated early learning centers with a view toward daylighting, nutrition, outdoor time, and walk or bikeability to school. I bought baby clothing and gear pre-loved, and wore a recycled maternity dress to our ceremony. I strove to be more resource efficient, since any single mom can certainly stand to cost-save on utilities.
With the support of supervisors at ED, I found work-life balance running this outreach and engagement initiative on a flexible schedule from Colorado. Now in our fifth cycle of the award, I’ve learned that we can incentivize change, spotlight innovative practices, and connect individuals, but that all of this works best when I push a little less and flow a little more.
Despite all of these gains, I admit that when 41 weeks rolled around, I panicked. Baby Green Ribbon’s lesson was, once again, by straining more, he wouldn’t necessarily arrive faster. Indeed, as I had experienced with both “projects,” patience has an important place in our sustainability work – individually, in schools, and in government.
After 41 weeks and three days, on July 29th, I welcomed Baby Boy Green Ribbon, Íñigo Steven Falken, in water at Colorado’s oldest free-standing birth clinic, Mountain Midwifery Center. Weighing 7 pounds, 10 ounces, and measuring 20 inches, he was well worth the wait.
We are taking a break from the Green Strides Tour this year, but will be back to highlight innovative practices across the country next fall. The announcement of the 2016 cohort will once again take place on Earth Day and we will celebrate honorees at a fifth annual ceremony in July. Íñi can’t wait to meet his green schools family and to learn school and lifelong conservation, wellness, and environmental learning practices.
Andrea Suarez Falken is Director of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools and ED’s Facilities, Health, and Environment Liaison. To learn more about U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools, visit our website. You may also subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.