Why I Can’t Wait to Get Back to the Green Strides Tour

In June 2013, when we launched the first “Education Built to Last” Green Strides Tour, little did I know that I would be embarking on the best component of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) recognition award program to date. The 2013 tour took me to 11 states to engage in 40 events;  spanning Alabama, New England, New York, New Jersey, California, Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin, and Washington, DC.  Like the award, it was a fantastic opportunity to build relationships and make connections at federal, state, local and school levels for facilities, health, and environment.

In 2014, under the theme “Healthy Schools, High-Achieving Students,” and with an additional 46 events in 6 states, I enhanced my knowledge about green schools practices. From Boulder and Fort Collins, CO to Palm Beach and Broward, FL, from West Virginia to Kentucky, from Prior Lake Savage and Waconia, MN to Maryland, – practices that save money, improve health and achievement, and just happen to help our planet to boot – all of which make sense for school administrators, teachers, and the students we serve.

I took fall 2015 off of to care for my son, but this fall I am headed back on tour, this time to focus our efforts on “Real World Learning” — authentic, hands-on education that connects students to their school, grounds, communities, and the world. As we think toward this fall’s tour, here is a bit of what I learned during the first 17 states, 86 events and two seasons of our Green Strides Tour:

1.) An unused swamp, forest, or stretch of asphalt can become a living, green classroom to engage students in science, engineering, social studies, music, and language arts as well as connect the school to its community.

Purdy Elementary School in the School District of Fort Atkinson, WI rehabilitated a wetlands area, now open to the public and the location of student wetland walks and mallard release.

Purdy Elementary School in the School District of Fort Atkinson, WI rehabilitated a wetlands area, now open to the public and the location of student wetland walks and mallard release.

 

At Five Hawks Elementary in Prior Lake Savage Area Schools, MN, outdoor learning began as a schoolwide focus and has come to form part of the fabric of the district.

At Five Hawks Elementary in Prior Lake Savage Area Schools, MN, outdoor learning began as a schoolwide focus and has come to form part of the fabric of the district

2.) Alternative transportation programs reduce district costs and harmful air pollution. Walk and bike to school programs also get students and families active while engaging the community.

Boulder Valley School District showcases both alternative transportation and energy at Casey Middle School.

Boulder Valley School District showcases both alternative transportation and energy at Casey Middle School.

Students at Grand View Elementary in Manhattan Beach Unified School District, California participate in a Walking School Bus that ensures adequate supervision while students walk to school.

Students at Grand View Elementary in Manhattan Beach Unified School District, California participate in a Walking School Bus that ensures adequate supervision while students walk to school.

3.) Students joyfully eat veggies that they plant, grow, and harvest in their carefully planned gardens. Our ED-GRS honorees use school gardens to learn science, social studies, nutrition, agriculture, art, and civics, among many other subjects.

Longfellow Elementary School students show me around their garden and even buddy up to teach each other.

Longfellow Elementary School students show me around their garden and even buddy up to teach each other.

 

In addition to integrating the garden into school curriculum, Waconia Public Schools in Minnesota allows college students to use their edible garden classroom to advance their studies.

In addition to integrating the garden into school curriculum, Waconia Public Schools in Minnesota allows college students to use their edible garden classroom to advance their studies.

4.) Kids get excited learning about the world around them when they learning outdoors. Thinking about the interconnected social, economic, and ecological systems that make up our planet and the challenges that our communities face exercises complex thinking, problem-solving and collaborative working skills.

In Kent School District, Washington, we toured Millennium Elementary School wetlands, walked the trails and had a seat in students’ outdoor classroom.

In Kent School District, Washington, we toured Millennium Elementary School wetlands, walked the trails and had a seat in students’ outdoor classroom.

5.) Where students learn matters. Period. Ventilation, moisture, contaminants, daylight, acoustical and thermal comfort, and design that encourages collaboration and inquiry.  All of these aspects of a school can hasten or hamper learning.

Locust Trace Agriscience Farm, in Lexington, KY is a modern, healthy, sustainable, and net zero agricultural career and tech center where we got to see aquaponics, greenhouses, culinary, veterinary programs, and even visit with livestock.

Locust Trace Agriscience Farm, in Lexington, KY is a modern, healthy, sustainable, and net zero agricultural career and tech center where we got to see aquaponics, greenhouses, culinary, veterinary programs, and even visit with livestock.

6.) Students don’t want to read about science.  They want to do science. Environment and sustainability concepts make for engaging, project-based learning.

In Broward County Schools, we got our feet wet (and sandy) to visit with students collaborating with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection at Birch Taylor State Park.

In Broward County Schools, we got our feet wet (and sandy) to visit with students collaborating with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection at Birch Taylor State Park.

7.) Student tour guides tell it best. Everywhere we went, students wowed us with their health, environmental, and sustainability learning.  This wasn’t rote memorization.  They owned the concepts because they live them.

At Kinard Core Knowledge Middle School in Fort Collins, CO students described the how and why of their conservation practices and sustainable building features to rival any architect.

At Kinard Core Knowledge Middle School in Fort Collins, CO students described the how and why of their conservation practices and sustainable building features to rival any architect.

Green schools exist everywhere. There is amazing continuity among the practices, partnerships, and leadership that makes a school, district, or postsecondary institution effective in its greening efforts. For this reason and so many more, I can’t wait to visit state number 18 this fall, when Green Strides will head to Pennsylvania!

Andrea Suarez Falken is Director of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools and Facilities, Health, and Environment Liaison at the U.S. Department of Education. In her spare time, she hikes with a toddler on her back.

2 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for sharing. I am excited to report that Zane North Elementary School has joined the Sustainable Schools movement. With our newly designed “Living Learning Landscape” we have redesigned our outdoor playground into a instructional/recreational space.

  2. your education is different then other countrys in world.You people make different in education

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