Sustainable School Successes in the “Show-Me” State

Imagine asking a group of urban students how they upcycle. I assumed I would get answers such as, ‘We keep scrap paper and use it for other projects’ or ’We reuse cardboard paper towel inserts for various projects in our classes’. However, after participating in this year’s “Living School Grounds” 2018 Green Strides Tour in St. Louis, Missouri and seeing the innovative efforts of nine unique schools, I have a new understanding of what it means to be green.

Each of the schools we visited on the 2018 Green Strides Tour demonstrated progress in the three Pillars of ED-GRS: 1) sustainable facilities and grounds, 2) health and wellness and 3) environmental and sustainability learning. These award Pillars are excellent areas to tackle if our overarching aims are to advance student and community engagement; reduce school operating costs and improve health.

Students are involved in garden, lunchroom, and worm bin composting at Green Trails Elementary School in Chesterfield, MO.

Over the last several years, nine schools in the St. Louis area, including four schools in the Parkway School District, have been named U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS). ED-GRS is a federal recognition award that honors innovative practices in sustainable school facilities, health and environmental learning. Schools apply through their states for nomination and are selected by the U.S. Department of Education.

The tour began in Parkway School District where, at Bellerive Elementary in Creve Coeur, visitors learned about permeable pavers, native plant landscaping that makes irrigation unnecessary, districtwide energy management efforts,

Many U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools incorporate movement throughout the day. At McKelvey Elementary School, students practice teamwork and communication with daily yoga and mindfulness. Photo credit: Hope Gribble

tower gardens and meticulous waste sorting. At McKelvey Elementary School in Maryland Heights, students demonstrated yoga poses that facilitated wellness, mindfulness, communication and team building throughout the day. Green Trails Elementary in Chesterfield, home to an outdoor classroom with composting and rain barrels, provides food to nourish students in the cafeteria while offering an alternative learning environment for students with sensory processing challenges. At Parkway North High School in St. Louis, tour-goers got a glimpse of the school’s solar panels and learned how students pitched and implemented a districtwide composting initiative.

At Keysor Elementary School, science and math concepts, such as the rain cycle or Fibonacci Sequence, are integrated into the outdoor structures. Photo Credit: Hope Gribble

In the Kirkwood School District, Keysor Elementary School’s Project IDEA is the centerpiece of its outdoor learning efforts. These living school grounds benefit from tremendous community support and include a dry creek, several raingardens, a student seed-stomped prairie, pollinator gardens, bird and bee habitats, food gardens, sensory gardens, a greenhouse and other outdoor structures. Students use the outdoor space to tag butterflies, observe bees, exercise their senses and play music. Inside, a motor hallway housing ten different stations facilitates students’ movement during the day.

The College School students share about their greenhouse, wind turbine, and solar panels, among other sustainability projects and features. Photo credit: Hope Gribble

The College School, a private school in Webster Groves, incorporated renewable energy and a permeable parking lot to mitigate the effects of runoff into the streams nearby. Additionally, it featured an early learning playscape, an outdoor water play area and a greenhouse for learning and food production. Students learn civic, math and business skills by developing sustainable business models and engaging in micro-lending in lesser-developed countries. They frequent The College School’s environmental learning center, where the Jan Phillips Learning Center has been built to meet the Living Building Challenge, one of the highest green building standards.

Students at Maplewood Richmond Heights Middle School learn physics through tree climbing and cultivate chickens. Photo credit: Hope Gribble

Students at Maplewood Richmond Heights Middle School learn physics through tree climbing and cultivate chickens. Photo credit: Hope Gribble

A highlight of the tour was visiting the Maplewood Richmond Heights Middle School, where visitors enjoyed apples and honey from the school’s orchard and bees. Visitors participated in tree climbing, visited chickens and sampled vegetable pizzas made in the school’s outdoor wood fired oven.

Crossroads College Prep, located near Forest Park on the western edge of St. Louis, was built in an old grocery store, repurposing materials for construction and furniture. Passionate student docents explained how wood from the meat cabinets in the grocery store was refurbished to construct tables. In the newer science and English language arts wings, designers used healthy, safe and often recycled materials; large numbers of high efficiency paned windows and solar tubes to allow natural sunlight into the building.

Visitors can’t keep their hands off the Saint Louis University High’s gigantic crop of sweet potatoes!

Another highlight was visiting Saint Louis University High School, where guests sampled school garden grown fried green tomatoes and mixed greens. They learned about students’ high efficiency race car design effort and visited an expansive garden with bee hives and composting, as well as some winning sweet potatoes!

This two-day tour of nine schools was a reminder that schools, districts and postsecondary institutions honored as U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools do not operate in a vacuum. They are successful thanks to the hard work and dedication of many in their buildings and the partnerships that they develop in their local communities.

What a way to show off sustainability successes and community engagement in the “Show-Me” state!

Learn more about one pathway to nomination, Missouri Green Schools, here. Read more about U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools here.  Find resources for all schools to advance toward sustainable practices here.


Kristen McKinney is Science Coordinator at the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Continue the conversation on Facebook or Twitter.