This article appeared as "Seeing Green" in the Fall 2022 issue of Independent School.
Among the 36 school districts and colleges receiving the recognition this year, three NAIS member schools were named 2022 Green Ribbon Schools by the U.S. Department of Education for their work on sustainability. Winners demonstrate leadership in three areas: reducing environmental impact and costs related to waste water, energy use, and transportation; improving the health and wellness of students and staff, including environmental health, nutrition, and fitness; and providing effective sustainability education, including robust environmental education that includes STEM, civic skills, and green career pathways.
Principia School (MO)
Lynne Scott, a science teacher and sustainability coordinator at Principia School (MO) says her school has committed to policies that support United Nations Sustainable Development goals, and each student is expected to work in one of those arenas with a focus on sustaining more than just the land on the school’s 360-acre biodiverse campus. “We view sustainability broadly,” she says. “It can involve environmental issues—but also issues concerning justice and equity or education. That gives our students so many access points to get involved and helps them see how these issues are connected.”
That involvement takes the form of an Impact Challenge, where each student commits to a cause and reports on their work, culminating in a showcase celebration. They work on projects independently, in class, in groups, and even through travel around the world. Second graders, for example, have held a food waste competition, which monitored high school students as they got rid of their leftovers. Middle school and high school students have sold produce from school gardens to raise money for local organizations focused on food security. They’ve also worked on lowering the campus’ energy use.
“There is an emphasis on service at our school but what that looks like is up to the student and it is all addressed in various classes and other work here,” Scott says. “We don’t live in a siloed world. Things are connected and we want our students to see that.”
Academy of the Sacred Heart (LA)
“What could we do better?” That’s the question students at Academy of the Sacred Heart (LA) are asked to consider in connection with environmental stewardship.
According to Head of School Micheline Dutil, each school division develops structures to “infuse curriculum with age-appropriate levels of awareness and respect for our environment and sustainable practices at the individual, family, and community level.” All of which occurs with that question in mind.
Students in all grades participate in hands-on efforts such as a beach clean-up but also learn about key environmental issues in the classroom, global education classes, a speaker series, and art projects. The issues are also often reviewed in the school’s Innovation Lab, where teachers create collaborative, cross-curricular challenges that provide students opportunities to design and prototype solutions using a design-thinking process.
Sacred Heart leaders have encouraged student stewardship of the school’s land, and students continue to find new ways to contribute. “The hope and enthusiasm that result from discovering so many opportunities to affect positive change is contagious,” Dutil says.
Urban Prarie Waldorf School (IL)
According to Head of School Sharla Paul, the students and staff at Urban Prairie Waldorf School (IL) have taken on numerous environmental challenges related to the three pillars of the Green Ribbon Schools program. The activities have included:
- a recent solar pilot and lighting retrofit, which substantially reduced the school’s energy footprint;
- a schoolwide infusion of nature and ecological awareness into instruction and curriculum, including urban farming and the raising of goats;
- a commitment to physical health among students, with an emphasis on outdoor free playtime, walking, and use of public transportation and;
- prioritizing social-emotional health with a schoolwide focus on diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice, including changes to the curriculum to “build societal awareness and a sense of social responsibility among students and graduates,” Paul says.
“Urban Prairie has prioritized incremental, doable projects to advance our sustainability work year over year,” Paul says. “At just 159 students, we are small but mighty. And now we are so proud to stand among a select group of schools across the U.S. that together prioritize sustainability in the face of the climate crisis. This work is about our children’s future.”
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