Sixth Cohort of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools Announced

On May 4th, the U.S. Department of Education named the 2017 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS), District Sustainability Awardees, and Postsecondary Sustainability Awardees. Across the country, 45 schools, nine districts, and nine postsecondary institutions are being honored for their innovative efforts to reduce environmental impact and utility costs, improve health and wellness, and ensure effective sustainability education.

The honorees were named from a pool of candidates nominated by 28 states and the Department of Defense Department of Education Activity. The selectees include 39 public schools, including five magnet schools and one charter school, as well as six nonpublic schools. Forty-four percent of the 2017 honorees serve a disadvantaged student body and 14 percent are rural. The postsecondary honorees include three career and technical and community colleges.

Curious what it takes to be a U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School? Here are a few of the actions that three of the 2017 honorees are taking.


Whitefish School District, MT

Whitefish School District has prioritized energy efficiency in renovations and lighting upgrades and is in the process of developing an energy conservation plan. The district recently broke ground on a two-story classroom building with attached greenhouse.  Using geothermal and solar production, and including a production garden, an orchard, an experimental forest, and an outdoor classroom, the facility will be the first zero-net energy building in the state, and will serve as a laboratory for sustainable practices.

Curriculum integration will connect learning to local agriculture, forestry, resources management, and entrepreneurship, and aspects of the facility are designed to help students achieve dual credit through institutions of higher education.  Each fall and spring, the district and the city sponsor walk- and bike-to-school events.  New bike routes have been established and road signs placed to ensure student and staff safety.

Whitefish installed water bottle refilling stations and has planted drought-resistant native plantings to minimize irrigation use.  The district has eliminated plastic utensils in the cafeterias, purchased metal silverware, and is transitioning away from the use of Styrofoam.  Whitefish uses its student-maintained gardening space to supply vegetables and herbs to the school district and for educational purposes.  It participates in a farm-to-school program, purchasing meat, dairy, grains, vegetables, and fruits from local farms.

The high school offers activities such as fly fishing, rock climbing, challenge courses, and Nordic and alpine skiing.  Students go on field trips to Glacier National Park, rivers, lakes, and wooded trails to learn ice science, fire ecology, water cycles, and snow safety.  The entire seventh and eighth grade class performs community service during the final week of the school year.  Students engage in citizen science projects researching the health of the local watershed.


Iowa Lakes Community College, Estherville, IA

The Iowa Lakes Community College’s Sustainable Energy Resources and Technologies Center was constructed with geothermal renewable energy systems, controlled lighting and heating systems, and recyclable building materials. Iowa Lakes constructed a Vestas Wind turbine for training purposes, generates much of its energy on-site, and sells all of the electricity from the turbine to the city of Estherville.

End-of-year rummage sales provide the opportunity for students to purchase gently used items for their dormitories or other needs.  Restrooms use automatic hand dryers rather than paper towels.  Food service grease is recycled for bio-diesel, and used oil from equipment is also recycled.

Iowa Lakes addresses faculty and staff wellness through health and wellness events, online financial awareness sessions, money toward fitness club memberships, paid family sick leave and personal sick leave upon hire, and annual health screenings.  Iowa Lakes uses safe, natural products for cleaning, renovation, and pest management and conducts mold testing. Its newly installed HVAC and exhaust systems maintain a healthy learning environment.

The Construction Technology program revolves around sustainable building processes.  Environmental Science and Water Quality and Sustainable Aquatic Resources address preservation, restoration, and management of clean water systems and waste water treatment.

Wind Energy and Turbine Technology courses provide study in wind power generation, distribution, and operations and maintenance.  The 66,000 square-foot garden provides a model for local garden projects throughout northwest Iowa to illustrate the process of growing, storing, processing, and preparing locally-grown foods with community patrons. Head Start students, kindergarten through 12th-grade students, and college students reap the nutritional, social, and economic benefits.


Bethany Christian Schools, Goshen, IN

Bethany Christian Schools has installed roof insulation and a HVAC system in the old portion of the building to improve indoor air quality and heating efficiencies, a geothermal wellfield, a 3.6-kilowatt wind turbine, and solar panels that provide 77 kilowatts of electricity. Restrooms were updated with low-flow fixtures, and hallway and parking lot lights were retrofitted with LEDs.  Skylights were preserved and enhanced to provide natural lighting.

Paper use has been reduced 31%, water consumption has been cut 19%, energy consumption has been reduced 31%, and greenhouse gas emissions have been lowered by 12%.  The school generates 12% of its energy needs on campus with wind and solar, and purchases the rest from wind and solar sources.

Bethany participates in schoolwide recycling, accounting for a diversion of 24% of waste from the local landfill.  Food scraps from the cafeteria are composted and used in the student-tended school garden, which provides fresh produce for the school’s salad bar, as well as an opportunity for students to learn about gardening and sustainable living.  The school’s biannual fish fry fundraiser has become an opportunity to educate students and the general public about sustainable practices, with food scraps and paper products composted, rather than going in the trash.

In the lower school, students study traditional energy and environmental concepts, while taking advantage of a multitude of field trips to local parks and environmental centers.  In high school, Bible classes address issues of environmental sustainability and most students take Environmental Science.  A highlight of this course includes two weeks outdoors studying the plants and organisms in the school retention pond, which was planted with native species in 2006 by students.  At the beginning of the school year, most students participate in one to two days of activities outdoors, including outdoor camps and wilderness experiences, featuring canoeing, climbing, cooking, shelter and fire building, orienteering, and outdoor cooperative activities.


You can view the list of all selected schools, districts, colleges, and universities, as well as their nomination packages, and read a report with highlights on the 63 honorees on the ED website. All schools can find resources to move toward the three Pillars on ED’s Green Strides.

Andrea Suarez Falken is Director of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools.

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