On May 16th, the U.S. Department of Education named the 2018 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS), District Sustainability Awardees, and Postsecondary Sustainability Awardees. Across the country, 46 schools, six districts, and six postsecondary institutions were 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 25 states and the Department of Defense Education Activity. The 2018 cohort includes 40 public schools, including two magnet schools and two charter schools, as well as six nonpublic schools. Forty-five percent of the 2018 honorees serve a disadvantaged student body.
Curious what it takes to be a U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School? Here are a few of the actions that the 2018 honorees are taking:
Magnificat High School, Rocky River, OH
Ever since Magnificat High School (MHS) opened in 1955, the school has reflected the Humility of Mary Community charism of humility connecting MHS with “the whole earth community” and the justice theme of Care for God’s Creation. The 19-acre campus is developed with this in mind.
Magnificat has participated in a demand response program through its energy provider since 2013, earning annual rebates. The school’s most recent renovation included the installation of occupancy sensors, light tunnels, and sustainable furniture, paneling, and flooring. Students installed a rain garden planted with natives, diverting a 2,500 sq. ft. roof section of stormwater from the city sewer system.
Students have inventoried and evaluated campus trees and actively develop plans to re-forest the campus. Rain barrels are used to supplement irrigation of the vegetable garden.
In 2008, the Magnificat recycling program was formalized with single-stream recycling and a separate contract for composting. Magnificat began its conversion to a paperless environment in 2011, offers two water refilling stations, and the cafeteria uses compostable plates and utensils.
Magnificat is a no-idling campus with signage posted at student pick-up locations. The school encourages community members to walk or ride a bike to school, and students walk to all local field trips.
Students’ gardening efforts have resulted in the donation of over 670 pounds of organically grown vegetables to the local Meals on Wheels program. The hoop area was expanded in 2015 to include a 3-season pavilion to be used as outdoor classroom space.
It is a Certified Wildlife Habitat through the National Wildlife Federation and also certified and registered as an official Monarch Waystation through Monarch Watch. In 2012, Magnificat obtained the Fair Trade School recognition.
Magnificat’s Sustainability and Seeds of Service Club (SOS) students have been invited to conduct tours and presentations. Marine Science Club students engage in experiential learning on the Floating Lab at Hinckley Lake. Students participate in a two-day biodiversity investigation on campus and quantify their findings. They visit a recycling center/landfill and a waste-water treatment plant. Retreats in natural settings for students are offered at every grade level. Magnificat introduced “Mother Earth,” (the environmental science teacher dressed in character) to the school community in 2008 and she appears at school gatherings to help raise awareness.
Central High School, Grand Junction, Colorado
Central High School was built in the 1960s, and the current building has been modernized and retrofitted to increase energy efficiency. Central reduced energy use by 39 percent, greenhouse gas emissions by 42 percent, water by 36 percent, and reduced the number of individual fluorescent lights from 1489 to 154. The school is working to relocate its current greenhouse to a planned outdoor classroom, so that environmental science classes can mentor and work alongside students in special education.
Central is proud of its physical fitness commitment of 225 minutes per week, the staff’s monthly participation in Wellness Challenges, and the requirement for all students to take advisory classes for 90 minutes a week. Central offers a recreation club that plans monthly activities, including kayaking, paddle boarding, skiing, snow shoeing, river rafting, hiking, and biking. A component of each outing is teaching stewardship and ecology of each area visited.
The Outdoor Wilderness Leadership in Science program teaches participants science concepts and leadership skills that prepare them for an opportunity to become camp counselors for a weeklong wilderness camp for sixth grade students. All students at Central are required to take an environmental science course or AP Environmental Science, typically during their freshman year. Exposure to units such as natural resources, weather and climate, ecosystems, populations, and interactions has stimulated tremendous growth in student understanding of the need to be environmentally responsible and civic-minded. The Green Team at Central is a student-run organization and a direct result of this dedication to environmental science curriculum.
Manhattan-Ogden Unified School District, Manhattan, Kansas
In Manhattan-Ogden Unified School District (MOUSD), in north central Kansas, all students learn, grow, and work to reduce environmental footprint, impact, and costs through millions of dollars’ worth of water and energy conservation and savings in tight budget times for the state. MOUSD provides all students with environmental and sustainability lessons at each grade level, in order to prepare for the changing world, as well as build hubs in the community for best practices to be shared as a world-class school district.
Uniquely positioned in the Flint Hills region of tallgrass prairie and in the agricultural heartland, MOUSD offers an innovative space for learning. For the past five years, the district has completed incredible student-centered projects districtwide at multiple sites with evidence-based results. Since 2013, MOUSD has been awarded some $250,000 from local, state, and federal sources to invest in specific projects that have allowed students to have equitable access to tools for environmental learning.
The entire district has been diverting millions of pounds of trash from the solid waste streams into commingled recycling bins, with a local business partner helping to bring recycling to the small rural community. In 2017-18, MOUSD has organized Go Green Champions and Leadership Teams. There are fresh fruits and vegetables daily with the secondary schools having salad bars. A fruit and vegetable of the month and fruit and vegetable program help to showcase local produce.
Onsite gardens, greenhouses, and composting help to offer nutrition, science, and agricultural education and reduce waste. The district nearly halved its water consumption in one year and reduced energy use by over 20 percent in three years. Repurposing and Recycling Education Space (RARES) serve as a gathering point for low-tech tools, project-based learning, open inquiry projects, reverse engineering, and creative expertise, making good use of items that would otherwise go to the landfill.
The district offers bicycle safety education, a community based bicycle loaner program, designated carpool lanes, and a no-idling policy. The custodial team has moved away from all cleaning chemicals to Tersano, a system that turns tap water into a safe, effective cleaner and sanitizer. Each building is using advanced HVAC systems with high efficiency appliances.
Jacksonville State University, Jacksonville, Alabama
Jacksonville State University is home to the Little River Canyon Center. Opened in 2009, it is one of the state’s first LEED-certified public buildings.
The facility is used to offer sustainability education to the public. For 26 years, JSU Field Schools have provided diverse, in-depth programs, including environmental education programs, outdoor recreation programs, field trips, outreach, summer camps, general public programs, and festivals that are designed to nurture an appreciation of Alabama’s natural and cultural significance, celebrate diversity, and foster stewardship of the natural world.
Throughout campus, energy management systems in JSU buildings monitor and control temperature and identify operational issues. HVAC upgrades improve indoor air quality and respiratory health through better ventilation, as well as contaminant and moisture control. The installation of campus hydration stations three years ago has saved 83,300 bottles and food service has saved 5,800 gallons since 2010 by going trayless.
JSU is a tree-friendly campus with drought-tolerant and runoff-resistant landscaping. External vendors provide removal and recycling of waste and properly dispose of all hazardous waste and chemicals. The “When You Move Out, Don’t Throw It Out” program began in 2017, in partnership with the Salvation Army.
The Gamecock Express, JSU’s diesel transit system since 2009, provides alternative transportation and features bike racks for those combining two alternative modes of transit. Food service provider Sodexo uses 92 percent Green Seal certified cleaning products and works closely with local produce distributors to maximize the fruits, vegetables, and dairy products sourced locally. The recreation outdoor adventure program provides resources that allow students to access the local outdoor areas more effectively, from kayaking to rock climbing to fishing to mountain biking to hiking.
JSU offers a Bachelor of Science in Biology with a concentration in Ecology and Environmental Science for graduates pursuing careers in those disciplines. The JSU Biology department is the home to the Center for Tick-Borne Disease Ecology. JSU’s Alabama Math and Science Teaching Initiative (AMSTI) distributes 2,700 science kits to teachers in 15 school systems in 7 counties and 70 schools, educating 67,500 students.
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 58 honorees. 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.