Conservation Woven into the Curriculum

Wolford Elementary School has been a member of the PLT GreenSchools network since 2009. The school is located in McKinney, TX, a small city of 135,000 that is rated among the top five cities in the U.S. for its quality of life by a national magazine.

Conservation is woven into Wolford’s entire curriculum. Beginning in kindergarten and continuing through 5th grade, for example, students must “Demonstrate how to make informed choices and use, conserve, and properly dispose of materials.” 

Wolford Elementary won top honors among K-5 schools  in a U.S. Earth Day Contest sponsored by Project Earth. That award put the school among the ranks of the world’s greenest schools for its efforts to reduce energy consumption, implement recycling programs, improve water conservation, and create gardens on the school’s grounds.

Energy Investigation

Students recommended a system to monitor electricity use and consumption. Student “Watt Watchers” make regular rounds of the building to ensure that lights and electrical items not in use are turned off. “The kids are great about telling people to turn off the lights—or else!,” said 5th grade science teacher Doug Chapman.

As a result of the students’ findings, Wolford’s Environmental Club worked with the school district to install sensors to turn lights off when a room isn’t occupied.  In 2011 the school realized a cost savings of 8%, along with a 10% savings in electricity consumption. These savings were achieved through a combination of awareness and changes in lighting. For example, the school district replaced the lights in Wolford’s gym and added reflectors so the light is just as bright, while using less powerful bulbs. Students and teachers turn off computers not in use. Another recommendation was to conserve power used by the laminating machine, which was  turned on and left on every morning. Now, it is turned on at scheduled times.  

Waste and Recycling Investigation

Wolford Elementary’s students are conscientious about collecting aluminum cans. The students also recycle other materials such as printer cartridges, laptop computers, cell phones, printers, video terminals, sneakers, and eyeglasses (working with the local Lions Club).  Last year these efforts raised just over $1,000 from selling these items to certified recyclers.

Each Friday afternoon, members of Wolford’s Environmental Club spend about 30 minutes sorting, counting, and packaging recyclables with the help of a parent volunteer. By recycling cans and bottles from the school cafeteria, the students were able to cut the amount of trash going to the school’s dumpsters by about 30%. 

Water Investigation

Texas has suffered from drought, so conserving water has been a major focus of the Environmental Club’s work. 

When students realized that many of their personal water bottles still had water in them at the end of the day, they came up with the idea of putting one-gallon jugs in each classroom to collect water from the smaller bottles each day. Instead of throwing precious water away, students now put leftover water in one of the gallon bottles, and use it to water the school garden.

School Site Investigation

Wolford Elementary students planted a Learning Garden on school grounds that includes a butterfly garden, into which they release butterflies every year. They hope to establish a community garden for McKinney’s families, as well.

Environmental Quality Investigation

Students measure carbon dioxide levels twice each day in the classroom, and have added green plants and vines to classrooms to see if CO2 levels can be lowered. They have questioned if students’ attention and academic achievement will improve as classroom oxygen levels improve—although the answer to that question may be difficult to quantify.

Wolford’s environmental quality investigation presented the biggest challenge, due to the logistics of transporting students. Four buses come to the school every morning, and three vehicles pick students up to take them to after-school daycare.  As a result of the Environmental Quality investigation, many students now ride their bikes to school every day, and others carpool.


Kathy Westra

Kathy Westra

Kathy Westra is a writer and environmental communications consultant based in Rockland, Maine.

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