By Kira Heeschen
The U.S. Department of Education recognized 53 schools as Green Ribbon Schools on Friday at the U.S. Department of Commerce Building in Washington, D.C.
These schools have demonstrated their commitment to environmental education and sustainability by implementing a myriad of initiatives. Their new programs strive to increase environmental literacy and engagement in their students, as well as slash utility costs for their district.
In an opening address, James Elder, Jr., director of the campaign for environmental literacy, said, “There has never been a better time for environmental education.” Environmental degradation and climate change are impacting students’ lives and their awareness of how to address and cope with these issues is paramount to their future.
This year’s Green Ribbon Schools carried out cost-saving technology like solar roofs, rain-catching systems, green roofs and wind turbines. They reduced waste by replacing single-use plastics, implementing food-donation or composting systems and maintaining clothing and supply swap facilities. Schools also replaced hundreds of acres of impermeable surfaces with vegetation and new permeable materials.
Many schools emphasized the importance of students’ health and wellness by creating longer recesses, yoga programs and mindfulness opportunities. Schools designated campus green for students to meditate and connect with their natural environment during school.
Environmental education initiatives included providing field excursions for students to sail, hike and camp in their local habitats. Students learned about green career pathways through engineering challenges to design electric cars, solar grids and aqua and hydroponic gardens.
Director of Green Ribbon Schools Andrea Falken says these “programs allow students to develop creative thinking and collaboration skills, problem-solving abilities, STEM content knowledge, and civic and conservation values.” Schools are preparing students for the future while “saving millions of dollars as a result of their greening efforts.”
The Green Ribbon School program was established in 2011 by the Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council, the National Wildlife Federation, Center for Environmental Literacy and Earth Day Network. These organizations wanted to officially recognize schools for innovative strides toward sustainability. To be recognized, schools must address one or more of the three pillars:
- Reducing environmental impact
- Improving health and wellness
- Providing effective environmental education
As we approach the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, we encourage schools around the world to look at the amazing work of these Green Schools for ideas and inspiration. Review the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools 2019 Highlights for more details about what this year’s honorees accomplished. Explore the Green Ribbon Schools website to learn how to join next year’s class of Green Ribbon Schools!
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Kira Heeschen is Earth Day Network’s education coordinator.
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