Alder Avenue Middle School began with a local problem—a nearby river degraded by population growth and overdevelopment—and made it into an environmental education opportunity that infuses every aspect of learning at this 900-student school. The school’s environmental focus helped earn it its designation as a U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School. Along the way, they used PLT GreenSchools investigations as a resource.
The population of rural Egg Harbor Township increased by more than 41 percent in the decade between 2000 and 2010. That growth not only caused overcrowding in the schools, but also increased pollution in the nearby Great Egg Harbor River, which is designated by the National Park Service as a National Wild and Scenic River.
The school’s Catawba Project uses the river as a 50-mile-long outdoor classroom where students learn about local watersheds. They have undertaken service-learning initiatives with township leaders, environmentalists, parents and community members.
Students are monitoring fresh- and salt-water quality, conducting a reforestation project, and have plans for a six-acre Community Teaching Garden to educate the community about the effects of fertilizer and pesticide run-off on the river. Through their community outreach, students show home gardeners how to make lawns and gardens more river-friendly.
According to Principal Joseph Marinelli, the Catawba Project “has shaped the way Egg Harbor Township middle schoolers view the world, and empowered them as environmental stewards charged with the hands-on knowledge, tools, and desire needed to make a difference in their community.”
School Site Investigation
Alder Avenue’s school grounds are a showcase for environmentally friendly landscaping. They include a small tree farm, an organic garden, a pond with a solar panel-powered pump, native plants, and bird houses built by students and placed to encourage wildlife nesting. The site is so wildlife-friendly a family of muskrats took up residence several years ago. Students use rain barrels to harvest water to irrigate both the school garden and tree farm.
Energy use is another major focus at Alder Avenue Middle School. After students conducted PLT’s GreenSchools! Energy Investigation, they implemented practices that yielded energy savings of nearly 27% during an eight-month period.