Earth Day this year is held April 22, 2023 and the theme is Invest In Our Planet—because a green future is a prosperous future.
To celebrate, we’ve compiled stories and resources to help educators and youth learn about sustainability issues, climate science, and actions they can take this #EarthDay2023 and every day.
Guide to Curriculum for Teaching About Climate Change
PLT teamed up with Earth Day Network, Project WET, and Project WILD to produce an up-to-date guide that lists all our available education resources to help you teach about climate science and the impacts of climate change. Use our “Teaching About Climate Change: Water, Trees, and Wildlife” guide to help plan a series of lessons that fit with your teaching situation to teach about the impacts of climate change on water, forests and biodiversity.
Student Worksheet TACKLING CLIMATE CHANGE—TOGETHER
Learn about the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals with our guiding questions. Young people will explore how the Goals are interconnected and address the global challenges we face, including those related to inequality.
From their leafy branches to their tangled roots, trees provide a habitat for a host of plants and animals. Take inventory of the life in, on, and around trees to discover how plants and animals depend on trees in many ways (available in English and Español.)
Children often do not know which resources are renewable and nonrenewable. Use this activity (in English and Español) to learn what these terms mean and discover why sustainable use of natural resources is so important.
Celebrate the many sights, sounds, and textures of the natural world by becoming an artist for the earth. Filled with creative exercises for children and adults, alike, this webpage contains ideas and inspiration for sustainable creative expression.
Engage middle school aged youth in learning about trees, forests, and sustainable forest management with PLT’s 12 free, ready-to-use, hands-on activities. Each 50-minute activity offers simple suggestions for leading learners ages 10–16 in themes related to sustainable forest management, stewardship, and green careers.
If you’re brainstorming ideas for outdoor lessons, trees are a great place to start! Bookmark a few of these fun and engaging outdoor activities to explore how trees and forest products are used every day!
In recent years there has be an increased urgency to implore policymakers to make a change for a zero-carbon future. Celebrate this Earth Day by exploring ways you and the young people you work with can become advocates for the planet.
Project Learning Tree recently launched a new theme-based activity collection!
The Connecting for Health and Planet Activity Collection is our latest release featuring three PLT activities for educators of students ages 8-11 and grades 3-5. And if you work with older students, the activities also contains age-appropriate adaptations for educators working with grades 6-8.
Designed to be flexible, the activities can be used as stand-alone lessons, or all together as a cohesive unit of instruction using a storyline technique.
Connecting for Heath and Planet: Grades 3-5 Activities
The three downloadable activities were developed with support from Nice-Pak and invite students to investigate how being outside—and among trees, specifically—provides people with many different physical, emotional, social, and learning benefits:
Get Outside!: Students investigate the physical and emotional benefits of working or playing outside.
Poet-Tree: Students explore the benefits of being outside as they make observations of how trees make them feel. This activity also incorporates traditional knowledge with a gratitude walk.
Helping Hands: Students plan and carry out a project to improve a shared, local outdoor space.
How do trees connect with human and environmental health?
A growing body of research confirms that children are healthier, happier, more creative, and have better knowledge retention when they consistently play and learn outdoors. Some benefits of time outdoors for youth include:
Increased attentiveness and better recollection of information, even after they go back inside.
Improved performance on tests and other external measures of knowledge gains.
Greater feelings of competence and motivation to learn.
Elevated mood and better ability to regulate emotions.
Decreased stress and anxiety.
More physical activity and improved physical health.
Improved balance, coordination, and problem-solving skills through less structured play.
More frequent and more effective conflict management, communication, and peer cooperation.
While much of the research focuses on children, there is also evidence that being outdoors is good for adults as well. Plus, an additional benefit of spending time outdoors is an increased investment in these places and spaces by the people who experience them.
Storylines provide connectedness and continuity to individual activities and can serve as the instructional glue that holds areas of knowledge and skills together. The activities in Connecting for Health and Planet may be linked together into a unit of instruction using a storyline technique, such as the one that follows.
Guiding Question: How does being outside benefit people?
Storyline: Being outside and among trees provides people with many different physical, emotional, social, and learning benefits.
The sequence of individual activities supports this storyline:
1. Get Outside! Investigate the physical and emotional benefits of working or playing outside; encourage students to design and plan the investigation and analyze their results.
2. Poet-Tree Explore the benefits of being outside and make observations about how trees make us feel. Invite students to gather “tree impressions” and to use these impressions to write poems centered around trees.
3. Helping Hands Challenge students to describe the feelings a local area evokes and what they wish were different about it. Plan and carry out a model project to improve the site, and reflect on the environmental, community, and personal benefits of the project.
New Features Within Each Activity
In addition to the typical elements that educators have come to rely on from PLT, the following new features in our theme-based series will further help educators adapt the activities for specific groups and settings.
Academic Standards Classroom educators and nonformal educators alike need to ensure that instruction helps diverse learners meet rigorous academic benchmarks. Each PLT activity displays explicit connections to practices and concepts mandated by the following national academic standards. Here’s an example from the first activity in the collection, Get Outside!:
Take It Outside!
Describes how to extend student learning into the outdoors.
Differentiated Instruction Strategies
Multiple Solution Pathways
Did You Know?
Forest Facts present interesting insights into forests as global solutions for environmental, economic, and social sustainability.
For more than 20 years, Huffaker has been instrumental in leading the Foundation’s efforts to advance a land ethic.
These efforts have included stewarding the Leopold Shack and Farm National Historic Landmark and advocating for a conservation ethic. Learn how the Foundation balances ecological, economic, and cultural values in managing its own property—and engaging neighboring landowners—and how it benefits from greater collaboration, innovation, and community connections. This session will leave participants further inspired to address this convergence for positive change—real-world change that benefits all stakeholders.
Growing Forest-Literate Citizens: By gaining forest literacy, people acquire the tools and knowledge they need to keep our forests sustainable over the long term while continuing to benefit from them. This session explores the role of the private and public sectors in supporting a forest-literate society and available tools to advance that goal. You can also read our Forest Literacy Framework—a free guide that translates the language of forests and sustainable forest management into 100 concepts for grades K–12.
Advancing Opportunities for Diverse Communities in the Forest Sector: Transformative solutions are needed to create more inclusive, sustainable communities. Learn about efforts by SFI and partners to support career awareness, recruitment, mentorship, and other opportunities that will help the forest and conservation sector advance a diverse and resilient workforce. Explore our Green Jobs quiz, curriculum, and training to introduce young people to green jobs and encourage young Black students and professionals to explore our partnership with Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS) and resources for rewarding careers in the forest and conservation center at PLT.org/journeys.
Urban and Community Forests—Collaborating for Environmental and Social Health: Urban and community forests deliver crucial social, environmental, and economic benefits. Explore how urban and community forests provide opportunities to engage new audiences through management practices and education tools. Our Discover Your Urban Forest Activity Collection is the perfect complement for urban educators seeking to strengthen middle school student connections to urban forests and invites learners to explore their environment and investigate environmental issues that affect their community.
May, June, and July are notable months for the transition from spring to summer, the anticipation of breaking from school, and a few of our favorite family-focused holidays: Mother’s Day (May 8), Father’s Day (June 19), Parents’ Day (July 24).
We also want to acknowledge the great diversity of families that exist by both blood and bond, as well as how difficult these holidays can be for families who have lost a loved one.
Strong family memories are made outside. And all children should have the opportunity to learn about and enjoy the outdoors with the grownups who love them. This summer, dedicate yourself to finding time to spend time in nature with your family—we promise it’s time well-spent.
Birdwatch! Bird watching with children can build respect and compassion for nature and all living things. Birding can also help kids refine their skills in concentration and observation. Head out as a family on a nature walk to a local park, forest, or nearby area and observe birds. Watch Maya the Science Kid for some helpful tips on getting started and some essentials you’ll want to have on your excursion, or read Audubon’s tips and games to encourage children to try birding.
Listen to birdsong and check out these STEM-focused ideas for elementary, middle, and high school students inspired by the Sounds Around activity found in Project Learning Tree’s PreK-8 Guide. A simplified version of this activity is downloadable as a free family activity (in English and Español) and watch PLT Colorado‘s Danielle Ardrey demonstrate how families can try the activity out in their own backyard to grow their STEM skills and environmental literacy.
For younger children ages 1-6, trees are the perfect early childhood introduction to nature! Make the most of the trees and forests near you (in any setting!) by exploring nature through the five senses and four seasons. Trees & Me: Activities for Exploring Nature With Young Children includes indoor and outdoor activities and downloadable music to accompany.
Head to a national park! Getting kids outside has many benefits beyond physical health. When spending time outdoors, kids develop respect and understanding of the natural world. With over 400 national parks and monuments to explore, national parks are a great way to inspire a love of nature in kids. Check out PLT’s Celebrating National Parks to explore the history of national parks, activities to try with children, and how to incorporate PLT curriculum to enhance learning. Plus, the Every Kid Outdoors pass allows any fourth grader (and a car full of family and friends) to enter National Parks, Forests, and many other national lands and waters for free!
Connect children to nature through sensory experiences on your visit with the handy Seeds to Trees Pocket Guide. Designed for families with children ages 3–6, it includes four hands-on experiences to do with children with tips for leading outdoor activities and embracing play and exploration. Plus, at just 4 by 6 inches, the guide is small enough to fit into a pocket or backpack!
Scavenger hunts are a fantastic way to get kids outside and learning about nature! Make a list of the items you hope to find on a walk or in the garden. Split up into pairs or play individually, then have children search for items on the list. Print this Bingo sheet created by Michigan PLT or create your own grid suited to a particular level or topic.
2.) Get Artsy and Inspired by Nature
Mix up your family time outside by looking for natural elements and discarded materials to turn into eco-friendly art projects. Here are a few ideas bring outdoor experiences and lessons back into your home, celebrate someone special, and make new memories.
Nature Cards are a great gift for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Parent’s Day, or any day of the year to celebrate someone special! This activity is simple and easy to prepare, and kids will have a great time enhancing their creative skills. Head outside to collect various natural elements such as fallen leaves, branches, grass, acorns, and whatever else they can find, then have them decorate their card with the items they found. Check out this Father’s Day nature card for some inspiration to get started!
A nature scrapbook (all ages) is also an excellent way for you to remember those special days. Take photos on your walk and let children collect flowers, leaves, seed cases, twigs, and other nature finds to decorate scrapbook pages. Collecting and arranging materials is a fun approach for children to practice fine motor skills without having to write complex sentences.
Have young learners take a closer look at the leaves and objects you find by searching for shapes and colors with Project Learning Tree’s (PLT) The Shape of Things family activity (in English and Español) and investigate shapes and colors found in both natural and built environments. This free family activity ideal for ages 5-9 is a simplified version of Early Childhood Guide: Activity 1—The Shape of Things. Follow along as Maine PLT facilitator, Joanne Alex, reads aloud a story about shapes in the human world then uses a simple, paper “shape necklace” to hunt for shapes in nature. She shows us how to make different shapes out of twigs and then give us a challenge.
There are so many creative ways young learners can put their studies into action with a three-dimensional forest diorama. Experiment with moss and other natural objects, paint, cardboard boxes, animal figurines kids find or make, and more. For a few ideas, check out our “Tree Art Projects” Pinterest board full of ideas to supplement lessons from PLT’s Trees & Me: Activities for Exploring Nature with Young Children.
3. Cook and Relax by the Deck or Garden
If your Mother’s, Father’s, or other Parents’ Day tradition is firmly founded in spending time grilling or relaxing on your deck or porch, you can still support forests from the comfort of your chef’s hat and lawn chair! Look for paper supplies like cups and plates with the SFI label. The label means the fiber used to make the supplies was sourced responsibly, meeting SFI Standards for water quality, biodiversity, wildlife conservation, and more. Products certified to SFI Standards are sold in more than 120 countries. You’ll find on a wide range of both everyday items and once-a-year items like Father’s Day cards.
It may have been a while since your family last built something, but you can make an easy bird or bat house with SFI-certified wood together. Bats and birds have a close relationship with forests, providing insect eating and seed spreading ecosystem services that create healthy habitat for other animals, so consider giving back with a project that supports the birds, bats, and forests nearest you.
Families with younger children can take learning about the bats, birds, and other animals that call trees home a step further with PLT’s Trees as Habitats family activity (in English and Español). Encourage kids to observe the different stages of tree growth and the relationships between animals that live in a forest. Be sure to check out the full activity (and 49 others!) in Project Learning Tree’s PreK-8 Guide.
Set up a bird feeder to birdwatch from home. When children take responsibility for a bird feeder it can help educate them about the wildlife in their community and foster an early appreciation for nature. Get tips and ideas for creating your own bird feeders made of recycled and natural materials and learn about why we should be careful with them. If you are going to set up a bird feeder, be aware that collisions with nearby glass windows are very dangerous to birds, causing up to 1 billion bird deaths each year in the U.S. alone. Whether you use tape, paint, or film, research and install a few inexpensive and easy solutions to reduce bird-window collisions near any feeders.
Start a garden bed this summer! Untreated SFI-certified wood makes an excellent border for your backyard vegetable garden beds and gardening is a terrific way to spend time with kids in nature. Children won’t even know they’re learning while the discover the delights of seeing seedlings sprout and taste things they’ve grown (while learning new skills and building confidence.)
Perfect for ages 5-12, PLT’s free family activity Have Seeds, Will Travel (in English and Español) encourages kids to observe, collect, and classify plant seeds. Have children examine their seed collection and invent a system for sorting or classifying them. Explain that plants have developed many different methods of seed dispersal to ensure the success of their species. This activity is a simplified version of PLT’s PreK-8 Guide: Activity 43—Have Seeds, Will Travel.
4. Encourage Passion to Become a Profession
Do your children love spending time outdoors? Are they enthusiastic about sustainability and learning and sharing about the environment? Help inspire ages 13+ to follow their dreams and find a green career pathway that matches their personality with PLT’s free trial of the Green Jobs Quiz.
The forest and conservation sector offers many rewarding, diverse jobs—some you may have never known existed!
For young adults ages 18+, mentorship programs can help determine their goals and consider the many green jobs available. PLT Canada’s Green Mentor program is a chance to network with other professionals to learn more about their experiences starting a green career pathway. The next cohort is starting in October 2022—but you can sign up and read a few first-person stories from program participants today!
Are you planning to attend the SFI/PLT 2022 Annual Conference in Madison, Wisconsin from June 14–16? The SFI Conference Green Mentor Program is currently recruiting mentors! Anyone attending the conference with over three years of professional experience can sign up (it includes a four-month commitment to meet with mentee 2–3 hours per month virtually and at the conference).
If the young people in your life already know they’re interested in a forest or forest product-related profession, encourage them to check out the annual Thru The Trees Video Contest. You can also support their interests by exploring the Forest Literacy Framework, tailored to American and Canadian audiences, to learn the forest, tree, and sustainable forest management concepts that everyone should know by the time they’re 18.
Looking for more ideas and resources to support your family learning about forests and encouraging green career pathways?
We are proud to share a new video about Project Learning Tree, produced in collaboration with BBC StoryWorks, and featuring USDA Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen.
The video, entitled “The Forest Classrooms Raising Responsible Children”, was presented at the Consumer Goods Forum Global Summit as part of the Better Lives Through Better Business series that explores the brands and organizations around the world working to improve global sustainability and support future generations. PLT is a program of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, an independent, non-profit organization whose mission is to advance sustainability through forest-focused collaboration.
The video helps tell Project Learning Tree’s story through the voices of Forest Service Chief Christiansen, local youth, and PLT-trained educators, and features a handful of activities that can be found in PLT’s new Explore Your Environment: K-8 Activity Guide, an award-winning collection of 50 hands-on educational activities that get children ages five through fourteen outdoors to learn about the natural world.
In addition to the new guide, Project Learning Tree offers a variety of resources for parents, educators, sustainability professionals, and community leaders, including:
Please share this video and connect with your local PLT State network to access high-quality professional development tailored to your state’s standards and environment.
Interested in supporting PLT’s goal to get more youth learning about and in nature? Please consider a one-time or recurring gift to Project Learning Tree. Visit plt.org/donate or contact us to learn more!
Ten years ago, many national and state agencies and organizations joined together to urge the US Department of Education to help promote sustainable school facilities as a proven means to engage students in hands-on learning and increase achievement. The group urged the Department to create an award to provide incentive for more green school activity across the United States. Today, the award is known as the Green Ribbon School program, serving as a symbol of green school excellence.
This year, we are thrilled to announce that many registered PLT GreenSchools have been recognized as awardees of the US Department of Education’s Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) program. They are among the 27 schools, three early learning centers, five districts, and five post-secondary institutions that are being honored for their innovative efforts to:
reduce environmental impact and utility costs
improve health and wellness
ensure effective environmental and sustainability education
Among these outstanding, award-winning PLT GreenSchools are:
Alabama — Tuscaloosa City Schools, Tuscaloosa, AL
Florida — Christ the King Catholic School, Jacksonville, FL
Indiana — Discovery Charter School, Porter, IN
North Carolina — Wake County Public School System, Cary, NC
Utah — Shadow Valley Elementary School, Ogden, UT
Virginia — Prince William County Public Schools, Manassas, VA
Wisconsin — Helen R. Godfrey University Child Learning and Care Center, Stevens Point, WI
Highlights from Two Registered PLT GreenSchools
Gain a little inspiration with these highlights from the nomination packets of two registered PLT GreenSchools recognized as 2021 US Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools:
Discovery Charter School
Discovery Charter School (DCS) is a Title I school in Porter, Indiana, comprised of 60 staff and nearly 500 students in grades K through eight. The school was founded in 2010 as the direct result of efforts undertaken by a group of families who wanted a school that incorporated place-based education for their elementary school-age children.
The school building is adjacent to woodlands and the Indiana Dunes National Park, so DCS students have easy access. The neighboring forest and 14,000-year-old dunes provide a natural laboratory for students to make observations, explore plants, animals, waterways, to learn to care for the environment and develop a sense of place.
The school grounds are recognized as a Schoolyard Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. In addition, the native plantings have been recognized with the Shirley Heinze Land Trust’s Bringing Nature Home Award.
The site was designed to benefit pollinators, too! DCS is a certified Monarch Waystation with beehives and pollinator plantings, bat houses, and a rain garden.
Care is taken to spend time outdoors, and DCS is committed to using their outdoor spaces to contribute toward students’ mental, emotional, and physical health. When weather permits, students dine in an outdoor lunch space and learn in an outdoor classroom that allows for outdoor seating and includes a rolling table and chalkboard.
Teachers plan regular field experiences where students reinforce their classroom learning outdoors with a hike or other outdoor activity. The school also has a dedicated school naturalist who prepares mini-lessons and creates resources for teachers, leads outdoor activities, organizes schoolwide events, and helps maintain garden spaces.
Environmental education is a cornerstone of the DCS experience, built into the curriculum of every grade level.
Here is an example of what that might look like across the school:
Kindergarten students use their five senses on the trail to explore the forest adjacent to the school. They visit the Coffee Creek Watershed Preserve once a month throughout the school year to observe seasonal changes.
First Graders are learning about soil through a hands-on program, then explore different soils on school grounds and use soil colors to paint; finally, they put together a classroom worm bin to observe soil formation in action.
Second Graders are integrating STEM while learning about weather, creating structures to withstand different “wind speeds” from a fan.
Third Grade hunts for examples of common and proper nouns (or other parts of speech) as they hike the trail.
Fourth Graders learn to identify and tap maple trees on school grounds; they calculate quantities of sap and syrup by applying volume conversions and adding fractions.
Fifth Graders learn about energy sources, energy use, and conservation; students receive Take Action Kits filled with energy-saving products for their home.
Sixth Graders learn to identify invasive plants in the field and to use appropriate tools to remove them from the native forest ecosystem.
Seventh Grade identifies the need to improve the school’s nature play area through an “Earth Force” project and research outdoor play elements, writing letters to request donations, installing a boundary rope, planting native plants to restore surrounding forestland, and creating a video for fellow students.
Eighth Graders work with the school naturalist and the technology teacher to procure labels for native plants along a school nature trail, complete with QR codes linking to student research on each plant.
Christ the King Catholic School
Christ the King Catholic School (CTK) is an urban parish school in the heart of Jacksonville, Florida. Built in 1955, the school grounds include 40 acres and serves nearly 300 students from grades pre-kindergarten to eighth Grade.
CTK’s green school journey began in 2008, when parents met with the principal and middle school science teacher to discuss how to make the school’s science education more memorable and meaningful. CTK’s subsequent pursuit of sustainability and STEM-focused education has paid off with several awards and accolades, including being designated a Florida Green Apple School and the first STREAM (Science Technology Religion Engineering Art and Math) accredited Catholic School in the State of Florida.
The school is known for its successful agricultural focus, and students participate in agricultural education programs that highlight student choices to reduce environmental impacts by collecting organic matter for composting, sustaining vermicomposting, and using recovered rainwater. CTK has impressive school gardens that feature a salad bar and stone beds. They are also in the process of developing field trips to the extension service canning facility to make canned foods from produce collected from garden harvests, as well as becoming a part of a program to raise chickens through their 4H club.
More than 75% of CTK’s educators have received Project Learning Tree training for environmental science and integrate our hands-on lessons across all grades. Environmental science and STEM are integrated into long-term projects for each grade level. These projects are data-driven and are carefully woven into the curriculum, designed for different progressions of learning:
Kindergarten students study butterflies, propagating lantana and other butterfly “food,” and tagging the butterflies as part of a national butterfly migration study. Students learn about the life cycle of Monarch butterflies by counting caterpillars and chrysalis in the garden and observing them until they hatch. They also have an engineering project where they create “hand pollinators” for milkweed plants.
First Graders grow lettuce and marigolds as part of their salad garden. The students incubate chickens and raise them over the course of the year, partnering with 7th grades and 4H Club members to show chickens at the Jacksonville Agricultural Fair.
Second Grade is in charge of the composting system that provides the soil for all of CTK’s gardens. Students advertise and collect composting scraps each week, weighing the compost and measuring moisture and temperature. This data is used to make adjustments to the compost and students graph their data in math classes.
Third Grade maintains the blueberry garden by weeding, fertilizing, maintaining bedding covering, and harvesting. The students then use their crops to make blueberry muffins to sell and raise funds for the L’Arche Harbor House, a nearby community for people with intellectual and developmental differences. The students even practice their engineering skills by designing a robotic “blueberry picker”!
Fourth Graders serve as energy “consultants,” using solar panels to do experiments to improve energy efficiency. Students have online digital access to the output of both panels at any given time and are able to see the effects of weather, season, and panel angle on output.
Fifth Grade serves as CTK’s 4R (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rethink) experts. Students take a yearly field trip to the local recycling center and take part in the Junior Master Gardener program offered through the University of Florida’s Extension Service, meeting weekly with two master gardeners to plant, harvest, and maintain the school’s gardens.
Sixth Grade is part of the St. Johns Riverkeeper backpack program. The now seven-year-old project began by going to the creek and wetlands on Christ the King Property to learn about long-term data collection and observations. Then students, teachers, and volunteers visit the creek weekly to gather data on tides, water depth, turbidity, pH, nitrates, nitrites, ammonia, salinity, and species identification. The students spend time with Riverkeeper educators learning how to utilize the tools to collect data and create presentations of their observations.
A Healthy, Efficient Learning Environment
Now, more than ever, green schools are inspiring students and educators and connecting communities to nature. US Department of Education Secretary Cardona recently spoke about how many of the green schools were uniquely prepared for the global pandemic with outdoor classrooms and social-emotional curriculum. And still, many took the creative initiative to keep kids engaged while learning remotely and with new distancing protocols.
Hear Secretary Cardona announce the 10th annual cohort of Green Ribbon Schools and share what makes a green school successful. The Secretary goes on to describe how the awardees “use sustainability in context to teach important civic values and skills that encourage students to grow into responsible, compassionate, and contributing global citizens…This is even more important as we work to recover from a global health pandemic, where all schools have been forced to confront issues of school air quality, nutrition, and outdoor learning more directly than ever.”
Project Learning Tree is thrilled that 18 registered PLT GreenSchools have been recognized this year as part of the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) program. They are among the 39 schools, 11 school districts, and 5 postsecondary institutions that have been recently awarded for their innovative efforts to:
reduce environmental impact and utility costs
improve health and wellness
ensure effective environmental and sustainability education
California — Anderson W. Clark Magnet High School, La Crescenta
Florida — Hobe Sound Elementary, Port Salerno Elementary, and Dr. David L. Anderson Middle with Martin County School District, Stuart
Hawaii — SEEQS: The School for Examining Essential Questions of Sustainability, Honolulu
Indiana — Fishers Elementary and Riverside Intermediate with Hamilton Southeastern School Corporation, Fishers
Kentucky — Redwood Cooperative School, Lexington; Locust Trace AgriScience Center with Fayette County Public Schools, Lexington
Maine — Camden Hills Regional High School, Rockport
Minnesota — School of Engineering and Arts, Golden Valley
New Jersey — Readington Middle School, Whitehouse Station
North Carolina — Millbrook Environmental Connections Magnet Elementary School, Raleigh
South Carolina — Cape Romain Environmental Education Charter School, McClellanville
Utah — Bonneville Elementary School, Salt Lake City; Wasatch Academy, Mount Pleasant
Washington — Grover Cleveland STEM High School and Northgate Elementary School with Seattle Public Schools, Seattle
Congratulations to these awardees and to all the schools, school districts and postsecondary institutions who have been honored with the U.S. Department of Education’s Green Ribbon Schools recognition award award this year. ED-GRS is part of the U.S. Department of Education’s effort to identify and communicate practices that result in improved student engagement, academic achievement, graduation rates, and workforce preparedness.
Two PLT Highlights
Here are some highlights from the nomination packets of two registered PLT GreenSchools recognized this year as a U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School:
School of Engineering and Arts, Minnesota
Recipient of a 2018 National Blue Ribbon Award, the School of Engineering and Arts (SEA), located in Golden Valley, MN is no stranger to US Department of Education accolades. Originally built in 1970 with an open school concept, SEA was named after Minnesota environmentalist, Sigurd Olson, as an environmentally focused school. Their Fuel Up to Play leadership group of 60 students advocates for in-school health and wellness activities like the daily morning “Jammin’ Minutes” program, which caught the attention of the Minnesota Vikings and earned them $15,000 in grants to produce more creative videos promoting healthy eating and the importance of drinking milk.
Approximately 95% of SEA’s population either walks, bikes, buses, or carpools to and from school each day.
SEA utilizes SkySpark Analytics to benchmark utility consumption, including electric and gas. This is compiled into daily and annual trend data, which is continuously improved each year.
SEA does not use irrigation on the grounds, instead focusing on maintaining native habitat to balance soil biology.
There are low flow faucets on all sinks, all flushing devices are automated, and there are currently two bottle filling water fountain stations on site.
Waste & Recycling
56% of SEA’s solid waste is diverted from landfilling or incinerating due to reduction, recycling and/or organics diversion.
The school is currently seeking funding to start district-wide composting.
30% of paper used within the school’s office is post-consumer material or fiber from certified sourcing with the sustainable forestry initiative.
Cafeteria food service waste of fruits and vegetables is fed to onsite animals (chickens, reptiles, etc.)
Each of SEA’s classroom have at least two large windows, so most teachers do not turn on the fluorescent lights, due to adequate natural lighting.
Since occupancy in 2012, SEA has been working to re-establish native plants, orchards, and gardens.
A recycling and composting program has been in practice for the last eight years.
Junior Naturalist student leaders monitor and educate the school community energy use, proper recycling, and care of the school’s yard, gardens, and chickens.
Approximately 18% of SEA’s school yard is devoted to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resource’s School Forest program, where students not only learn core content, but also sustainable forest management practices as they work alongside Minnesota DNR Foresters and Minnesota Conservation Corps members.
SEA’s school site has more native and natural green space than typical of a public elementary school with approximately 75% of the school grounds devoted to ecologically beneficial use.
SEA’s school grounds feature a number of opportunities for outdoor learning, including:
Chickadee Landing (a designated bird observation area where students feed birds in the winter months)
7 acre School Forest
800 ft. of Native Prairie Patch (students collect seeds in the fall and grow seedlings in the greenhouse to be transferred to school grounds in the spring)
Native Butterfly Garden
60 ft. Chicken Coop and Run (students take care of the chickens with daily feedings and watering, monitoring health, and collecting eggs)
Pumpkin Patch and Sunflower Garden
Kindergartener’s Tulip Beds
30-tree Fruit Orchard
Raised Vegetable Garden Beds
Bluebird Houses (located around campus and managed by both students and staff to observe bird life cycles)
Read more, and check out a local profile of the School of Engineering and Arts, to learn how SEA is virtually celebrating amid COVID-19 pandemic self-quarantines, “Because,” as Principal Heather Hanson says, “in the midst of the dark cloud, this is a real ray of sunshine for us. It’s something to be celebrated and be proud of.”
Millbrook Environmental Connections Magnet Elementary School, North Carolina
Millbrook Environmental Connections Magnet Elementary aims to develop environmentally-minded citizens who will change the world. Students are immersed in nature-based learning, including on-site rain, pollinator, and edible gardens installed on campus. School grounds are certified as Wildlife Habitat and they have significantly reduced the use of pesticides around campus. The student-led Green Bees Team implemented a school-wide recycling and food waste diversion program and feature bi-annual waste audits.
Here are some more highlights:
Millbrook’s Green Bees and faculty Eco-Action Team members are working to reduce the school’s carbon footprint through energy conservation lessons, whereby children will design an action plan to reduce energy consumption.
The school’s outdoor learning spaces feature native plants and are designed for North Carolina’s climate to be water efficient. A rain garden helps reduce stormwater runoff across campus, reducing flooding and curbing erosion.
Waste & Recycling
Students collect and deposit recycling waste once a week and the school offers a composting program in the cafeteria, where students compost food scraps, which is used (in part) to feed the campus gardens, and then the excess is taken to a composting facility.
The school participates in a paper reusing program
5th-grade students annually complete a Problem Based Learning (PBL) unit focused on improving the school’s air quality. NC Department of Environmental Quality representatives present at the school and ask students to use their research to create public service announcements, brochures, and posters to present to parents and other community members to educate them on the air quality.
In 2005, a 0.375-acre watershed was constructed. This wetland drains 14 acres of the 16-acre site, reducing the annual Neuse River nitrogen load 85% below the existing school site.
Students maintain Millbrook’s on-site food garden with the help of the Raleigh InterFaith Food Shuttle. InterFaith Food Shuttle has placed a Food Corps volunteer at the school, and the volunteer is on campus two full days per week, co-teaching garden curriculum, maintaining garden space with student help, and monitoring the cafeteria and composting.
Students participate in yoga and meditation classes throughout the year. The students are led through mindfulness activities and yoga routines, by a teacher trained in trauma-informed outreach, to promote students’ mental and physical health.
Millbrook prides itself on being a comprehensive, nature-immersive school with daily instruction delivered through the lens of Environmental Science and Sustainability education. All licensed staff received training from Project Learning Tree. Read more.