Students and Teachers Make It Happen

From its opening during the 2011-2012 school year, Eisenhower High School emerged as a leader in Kansas environmental education. Ecology and biology teacher and Green Team mentor Denise Scribner has been at the forefront of statewide efforts to green Kansas schools, serving on the leadership team that developed the state’s environmental literacy plan.

In the school’s first year of operation, Scribner was  honored by the White House Council on Environmental Quality with the Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators, and Eisenhower was named to the 2012 inaugural class of 78 Green Ribbon Schools by the U.S. Department of Education. In 2016, Scribner received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

Eisenhower is a leader tapping into volunteer consultants from the local community, county, and state. Experts in subjects ranging from raptor rehabilitation to hazardous waste to land management enhance the school’s environmental curriculum and engage students with their real-life career choices. Eisenhower is also at the forefront of technology for learning, to include iPod downloads, interactive websites, research facility webcams and webinars, and virtual web labs that allow students to experience environmental science on a global scale. Environmental education finds its way into all of Eisenhower’s academic disciplines, with English classes reading Henry David Thoreau and Aldo Leopold, and debate teams using environmental issues for their competitions.

A Natural Tie

“Kansas is an agricultural state with strong ties to the land, so the state’s focus on environmental literacy is natural,” Scribner noted. Eisenhower’s partnership with PLT GreenSchools—and a cooperative agreement signed in 2012 between PLT GreenSchools, the Kansas Association of Conservation and Environmental Education, Kansas Green Schools Network, and the National Wildlife Federation’s Eco-Schools USA—“brings national attention to our efforts in the Midwest,” she added. Scribner relies on some 20 activities from PLT’s Environmental Education Activity Guide for grades K-8 as a springboard for the more complex PLT GreenSchools Investigations.

The list of her students’ accomplishments is impressive. They completed the PLT GreenSchools Energy, Water, and Waste & Recycling Investigations—and  developed new problem-solving skills in the process. While they were conducting field investigations at an aquatic pond at nearby Goddard High School, they discovered that the pond’s water did not contain sufficient oxygen to support the species that lived there. They devised a solution—a way to harvest wind energy to aerate the pond—and won a grant to finance the wind power.

Outdoor Learning

Eisenhower students received a grant for a new Outdoor Wildlife Learning Site (OWLS) with habitat and native plants that provide food, shelter and water for wildlife. “The students are responsible for all of it,” Scribner said, “so they are learning leadership skills too.”

The site includes 300 culturally significant native plants in a garden that is fully accessible to visitors with disabilities. The plans also include over-seeding an area  with native prairie grasses, which will be subject to a “no spraying, no mowing” policy.

The whole school is involved. “As our students develop a nature trail, our media department is making a video to document the project, and art students are developing a series of ‘Art on the Prairie’ ceramic pieces that will be displayed along the trail,” explained Scribner. The site has been designated an official Monarch Way Station for  migrating butterflies.

Young Students, Big Results

Environmental awareness permeates Lothrop Science and Technology Magnet School, a pre-K through fourth-grade school in Omaha, Nebraska. Its curriculum features a consistent, daily focus on reduction, reuse, and recycling, and all its environmental community service projects are student-designed and student-led in order to build “competence, confidence, and responsibility.”

Community service is a requirement for all students, and all service-learning projects have an environmental focus. Students work to resolve community problems, build outdoor classrooms, mentor other schools to develop environmental programs, and experiment with alternative pest control procedures. This school-wide commitment earned Lothrop Magnet Center a place in the 78-member inaugural class of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools  in 2012.

The school reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by over one-third in one year by changing to energy-efficient bulbs. Students receive training to reduce water use  and plant native species of vegetation on the school grounds. Classrooms have student “plumbers” and “electricians” assigned to monitor water and energy use, report leaks and wasteful practices, and recommend improvements.

Students at Lothrop take recycling a step further than just collecting and sorting recyclables.  As they sort through the items they have collected, they discuss ways they could have prevented the things from being thrown away in the first place—for example, by using cloth instead of paper towels, or regular dishes instead of single-use paper or plastic plates. They are also creative in finding new uses for items usually thrown away. For example, they now collect juice boxes from six other schools, and use them to plant seeds in a sunflower research project with one of their community partners, the Lauritzen Gardens Botanical Center.  

Lothrop students also have learned about vermicomposting—using worms to create rich composted soil—through school assemblies and science classes on worm biology. They have taken what they learned to the community, distributing worms and teaching the public about vermicomposting on Earth Day. This knowledge is put to good use, not only in the student-managed garden, but also in the community, where Lothrop students share their knowledge of green gardening and Earth-friendly pest management techniques with homeowners.

More Green Time, Less Screen Time with PLT Tree Farm Tour

It has long been our belief that if children are given an opportunity to experience the beauty and fun of being outdoors on a Tree Farm, the forest will come to life in a way that leads them to unplug from iPods, Playstations, cell phones, and television in order to connect more with the amazing world of nature.

For the last 21 years, rain or shine, this is exactly what has happened on the first Thursday of June when 4th graders from St. Michael’s School in Olympia, Washington, descend on our Tree Farm in nearby Frances for a PLT tour.

 

Embracing the Day

This year as we waited for the children to arrive, the rain came down harder and harder. The eight foresters who helped lead the tour began arriving about an hour before the kids and I was reminded once again of the great people we have in this industry!  They showed up with smiles on their faces, rain gear to wear, and excitement to share their love of the woods with the next generation. One forester offered to set up a huge canopy to keep the kids dry. Another brought various sizes of rain coats and boots from his own kids to share with anyone who wasn’t prepared for the deluge. I had baked goodies and made coffee for them. As the  foresters visited, I realized how important it is that we share their knowledge and love of the outdoors with folks who don’t have the opportunity to live connected to nature. 

As we welcomed the kids and their parents, it became increasingly clear that this was, without a doubt, the most rain we ever had for a tour!  This became the perfect time to pass on a little “life lesson” by sharing these words written by an unknown author: “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”  This is especially true for those of us living in the Pacific Northwest!  So, we all embraced the day just as it was and moved forward with the planned activities.

Demonstrating Stewardship

We displayed pictures from past PLT events and pictures of the five generations of my family who have nurtured this land over the last 124 years. Our son Tim demonstrated how to “make square boards from a round log” by showing how our Mobile Dimension Sawmill operates. This is always fascinating for people who have never seen it before, and they love the wonderful fragrance of freshly milled Cedar as they examine the boards.

Next, we loaded the kids on a haywagon, and my husband, Bob, drove them out to the woods where the foresters had set up stations to teach about their particular area of expertise. This was something new we tried this year—in the past we had divided the class into small groups and had a forester lead each group through a walk in the woods, teaching along the way. Bob suggested rotating through stations so kids could learn about a variety of topics including tree identification, plot sampling, log scaling, fish habitat restoration on the creek, road building, insect pests, using compasses, and taking core samples from a tree. We all agreed that this new way of having different stations worked really well.


Connecting Kids to Nature

In spite of the rain, I was impressed with the resiliency of everyone as I listened to the chatter while we passed from station to station!  But what struck me the most was a question from one young boy who came up to me and asked very seriously, “So, what do you people do for entertainment out here?”  I replied that when I was growing up, we walked in the woods, raised vegetables in the garden, played at the creek, and worked in the hayfields. The boy reiterated, “But what do you do for fun?  Do you have television?”  I told him that we did have it but didn’t spend much time watching it as there was a whole world outside to explore. He persisted with this line of questioning saying, “Do you play games?”  I told him that we did play baseball, croquet, marbles, and some board games. He responded, “I meant video games–what type of game console do you have?” For a moment I was speechless–he was absolutely serious!  I shared with him that the entire outdoors was “my game console” and there were wonderful discoveries to be made each and every day.

As the boy moved on to eat his lunch, I was left pondering that conversation and I shared it with Rex, one of the foresters. He shook his head and said that is exactly why education programs like PLT are so very important. He said that when he was a kid, they’d play pick-up baseball and go fishing at the creek. Now, he feels sad that so many kids are glued to some type of screen and seldom get outside.

I had similar thoughts as I was saying thank-you and goodbye to another forester. Dale is a neighbor (anyone living within five miles of each other is a neighbor!) and he had been a close friend of my dad’s all his life. At 87 years old, he is still out in the woods, sharing his wisdom with  young people. He was climbing over logs and completely “at home” in the forest. His example clearly illustrates what it means to live a life of stewardship in harmony with nature, and he gives testimony to the importance of passing this on to the next generation. 

Making Learning in the Outdoors Fun

If we expect the next generation to follow in our footsteps, care for the land, and be stewards of its natural resources, we must give them opportunities to get outside, connect with nature, and develop a love for the natural world. Because young people today are plugged in to electronics, spending more and more time inside–not outdoors learning, or playing, or exploring–it’s more important than ever that we give them fun and engaging experiences in the woods. Whether you’re an educator, a forester, or a family forest owner, a parent or a grandparent, PLT is one of the best tools I know to get kids outside, having fun and learning at the same time.

In all our 21 years of experience leading PLT Tours on our Tree Farm, we’ve always found the children enjoy their visit – in spite of what the weather may bring!  Even the young boy who plays video games for entertainment had fun, and at least we know we opened his eyes to a whole new world.

A Win-Win Scenario at a Florida PLT GreenSchool

St. Michael Lutheran School (SMLS) is a K-8 parochial school on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Its 380 students come from throughout Lee County.

Students at St. Michael Lutheran school collect and weigh trash for recyclingSMLS has been a Florida PLT School for more than a decade. Through this program, at least half the teaching faculty has attended a PLT workshop, PLT activities are incorporated into the curriculum or there is a designated PLT Week, and the school has a PLT Coordinator. 

“PLT gives us at St. Michael an opportunity to live out our convictions in word and deed,” said principal Robert Ziegler. “Caring for the environment is a win-win scenario that teaches us to be be self-disciplined and care for things things outside ourselves.”

Becoming a PLT GreenSchool was a team effort, as middle school science teacher Katie Schlotterbeck recalled, involving students, teachers, staff, and the community. For example, the school’s director of finance and bookkeeper helped students gather and analyze data, as did the head of maintenance. The cafeteria manager supported recycling efforts, and electricians in the community helped install sensors to reduce electricity usage.

Knowledge led to action. ““I taught a lesson on biodegradability in October to all of my middle school classes and afterwards the amount of water bottles and soda cans that were recycled at lunch increased,” Schlotterbeck noted. “We all need reminders.”

In addition, the action extended from school to home. As seventh-grader Alex Quattrone said, “The recycling things that we have learned at school, I have brought home and taught my family.”

Another student, McKenzie Campagnolo, added, “GreenSchools has helped me learn what I can do not only to help my school, but to help my home and community. It was fun to do this with my friends and know that I was making a difference.”

Energy Investigation

Student at St. Michael Lutheran school in Florida uses a light meter to record lighting levels in the schoolThrough their investigation, 6th graders recognized the difference in energy usage between six rooms that had motion-activated light sensors and the rest of the campus. Their action project: installing more light sensors throughout the school. A local contractor partnered with the students to help them figure out which sensors to use and how to calculate the projected savings. Another electrician volunteered his time to install 52 sensors. The students determined that electricity bills did not rise from 2007 to 2011 (latest figures available), even though electricity rates had significantly increased. 

Students at St. Michael Lutheran school use a watt meter to record energy usageThe project was integrated into school curricula through lesson plans and activities at all levels. A school poster contest, skits, and other student-led activities also extended the learning throughout the school.

Waste and Recycling Investigation

Students reflected on the amount of waste produced by the school and considered how much of it could be recycled. They created a Recycling Club and instituted recycling in classrooms and the cafeteria. Students monitor and empty the containers, and help fellow students to establish a “recycling routine” at lunchtime.

The investigation also resulted in other changes. Removing small waste cans from classrooms reduced use of plastic liners by 80 percent. Printing on both sides of the page and relying more on email than printed communication reduced paper usage.

“Coming to Saint Michael in the 7th grade, I learned just how green this school is,” said student Danielle Cambareri.  “At SMLS, we don’t just recycle paper, we recycle bottles and cans and all the classrooms have motion sensors which save on electricity.”

Student at St Michael Lutheran School in Florida reads and records the school's electricity and water metersWater Investigation

The students discovered that 7% of the faucets and 5% of the toilets leaked. They advocated for repair and replacement of broken toilets with low-flow models. The water bill has remained constant since 2007, despite a local increase in the cost of water.

Water education is taught in all classes, with a major emphasis in grades 3, 4, and 6.

School Site Investigation

The school has several gardens: a butterfly garden, as well as those planted with vegetables, flowers, and fruit. Students added a hydroponics garden that uses rainwater caught in barrels. A small outdoor pond houses turtles that have outgrown classroom aquariums. Students attending the school’s summer science camp mapped, labeled, and tagged all the trees on campus.

Different grade levels now regularly use the outdoor space to enhance learning—from a courtyard area, to the gardens, to the soccer field for science activities.

Environmental Quality Investigation

Students have focused on indoor and outdoor air quality. They help in monthly monitoring and maintenance of the ventilation system, which includes changing classroom air-conditioning filters.

Three no-idling zones were set up on the campus. Students measured 800 pounds of carbon dioxide produced before no-idling signs were installed, compared to 425 pounds afterwards.

An Endangered Tree Mobilizes an Arkansas School

With a name like “Acorn,” it was probably fated that the elementary school in Mena, Arkansas, would embrace environmental education.

Located in rural southwestern Arkansas, the Acorn School’s 15-acre campus includes a vegetable garden and greenhouse. A forest adjoining the campus provides also opportunities for environmental learning. It was there that science teacher Kathy Rusert’s students discovered an endangered tree species, the Ozark Chinquapin (Castanea ozarkensis). Since discovering the Chinquapin, Rusert and the entire 700-student school have made the endangered tree the centerpiece of efforts to build community awareness to protect the species.

Once common in the arid soil of Missouri and Arkansas, the naturally rot-resistant wood of the Ozark Chinquapin was prized for railroad ties and fence posts. Unsustainable logging practices reduced the numbers of trees. Then, the Chinquapin (sometimes called the Ozark Chestnut) succumbed to chestnut blight, which all but wiped out the species from the Ozark landscape.

A Labyrinth with the Tree in the Center

With the leadership of Kathy Rusert (one of Project Learning Tree’s National Outstanding Educators in 2012), students built a labyrinth behind the school grounds, with a Chinquapin at its center. An interpretive sign explains the tree’s plight—and what area residents can do to protect the native species. With help from a PLT GreenWorks! grant, over 250 students worked on building the outdoor space. Students also have planted blight-resistant Ozark Chinquapin seeds, and monitor their growth.

One of the first group of schools to be named by the U.S. Department of Education as a Green Ribbon School, Acorn was cited for the community partnerships that benefit its environmental programming. These include a partnership with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission in which student teams monitor water quality. It was Acorn’s students who initiated the application for nomination as a Green Ribbon School by the Arkansas state education agency.

A commitment to environmental quality also infuses the school. Acorn implements all Environmental Protection Agency environmental health recommendations, including integrated pest management practices and contaminant control protocols.

Gardens, Gutters, Gophers, and GreenSchools

Walden Community School is an independent middle and high school in Winter Park, Florida. It supports small class sizes and individualized learning for its students, and PLT has been a part of the curriculum for several years. In fact, Walden was one of five Florida schools that helped pilot the national PLT GreenSchools program in 2010.

Students have used PLT GreenSchools investigations to make a number of changes on the campus, particularly related to water usage. They have learned to discuss the impact of even small changes on their own school and on the broader environment.

“Our students are very civically involved,” said Carol Mikulka, Walden’s founder and principal. “Environmental education is part of that, whether it’s through a course on problem-solving, investigating systems, or engineering.”

In an interview in Playground Magazine, she commented, “Project Learning Tree provides schools with the resources to educate about environmental issues. More than that, it helps you integrate lessons about the environment into every class, from math to English and more.” 

Energy Investigation

The school uses natural lighting and ceiling fans to help reduce energy usage as much as possible. Students learned that opening non-sun-facing window shades allowed in more natural light and could reduce the use of artificial light sources by about 25% (an average of 2 hours a day). Also, by installing ceiling fans, the students found that air-conditioning could be set at 77 degrees instead of 75 without any change to student or staff comfort level.

Waste and Recycling Investigation

Many Walden art projects use recycled materials, such as cans and scraps of cardboard. The school also created classroom manipulatives with previously used paper.

Students are regularly introduced to the concepts of waste and recycling through discussions, field trips, and videos. The Analytical Reasoning Courses also challenge students to find alternative uses for materials.

Water Investigation

Students at Walden Community School in Florida look at water erosion from a gutter downspout at their schoolStudents decided that the area of concern on which they could have the greatest influence related to outdoor watering practices. They learned about using rainwater for irrigation on a field trip, and were excited about implementing this practice on campus to save water and to reduce soil erosion from rain gutters. They created a plan to use rain barrels to harvest water to irrigate three new school gardens: a vegetable and herb garden, a xeriscape garden, and a “gopher tortoise café” in which students also investigate food preferences of resident tortoises.

The  pilot GreenSchools grant supported this effort. Students were involved in preparing the grant application and suggested the project title: Gardens, Gutters, and Gophers.

In a weekly class called Investigating Systems, students planned the project. Small groups were assigned specific locations to map and plan landscaping. They developed a relationship with a local nursery, whose staff provided advice on plant selection for native and xeriscape species. Students, faculty, and parents attended a workshop on rain harvesting at the local zoo, where they created nine rain barrels for the campus. Students used problem-solving skills to suggest possible solutions for gutter erosion issues and water pressure challenges in the rain barrels. They also wrote updates for the school’s website and newsletter.

In an engineering class, students created projects and presentations on different watering systems, such as aqueducts, modern plumbing, and rain barrels. In these projects, they talked about the needs and capabilities of different systems in different places.

School Site Investigation

Students helped plan, organize, and plant a garden with plants both for eating and for supporting a butterfly habitat. A Walden parent who is an organic farmer is now working with the students to set up two organic vegetable plots.

Environmental Quality Investigation

Bennett Garfinkel, who joined the faculty in 2013, talked about using PLT and other EE with his students at the start of recent school year. “We will be doing hands-on experiential learning,” he said. “We will also be looking at the science behind the headlines—what a greenhouse gas really is, how the data is collected, and what rising sea levels mean for us.”

A River Inspires a New Jersey School

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.

Water Investigation

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 Investigation

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.

Voices of F. L. Schlagle’s Green Team

Building student leadership skills and giving students a voice is a big part of PLT GreenSchools. At F. L. Schlagle High School in Kansas City, KS, members of the school’s Green Team routinely demonstrate what students can do when provided with an opportunity to lead and to speak. A case in point: an appearance by students Randi Hartin and Irene Fernandez at an annual ecological conference.

The two students knew they would speak about their PLT GreenSchools work.  But they had no idea they would field questions from a group of adults that included the president of the Kansas state Parent Teacher Student Association.

Despite their initial nervousness, Hartin and Fernandez came through with flying colors. They talked about the recycling program they started at Schlagle, about how the student Green Team is replacing the school’s bathroom fixtures and lights with more water- and energy-efficient models, and about the business plan they’re developing for their new school garden. They told their audience how the PLT GreenSchools program helps teach students about Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). “It went really well,” said Fernandez.

The two young women were part of the school’s Green Team, whose members take the lessons they’re learning about recycling, organic gardening, and environmental sustainability to their families, their neighborhoods and—through events like the conference—the  wider community.

Waste & Recycling Investigation

The school’s recycling program, begun with funding from two PLT GreenWorks grants, involves the whole school and, increasingly, the school’s faculty, parents, and neighbors. “The kids are taking information home to their families, and it’s having an effect,” said Green Team advisor and teacher Dominick DeRosa.

“One student made such an impression that his family changed all the light bulbs in their house to energy-efficient models. Another one of my students said his mom wasn’t letting the family throw anything away any more; they’re recycling everything,” DeRosa reported. Even the Schlagle faculty caught the recycling bug from the Green Team. “When we had a faculty meeting at another school, our teachers were dumpster-diving to retrieve cans and bottles that had been put in the trash.” 

The recycling program also engaged special education teacher Mitzi Hargis and some of her students. “Two of my students do all the recycling. It’s been a wonderful, wonderful program for them. Katie and Dyanne go into every classroom three times a week, and all the kids and teachers know them,” saids Hargis. “It has really helped my kids to be known—and seen—through the whole school. It’s a life-skills lesson no ordinary class could teach.”

School Site Investigation

The PLT GreenSchools School Site Investigation led to plans for a community organic garden on the Schlagle grounds. The students broke ground for the garden  after devising a business plan that included raising vegetables, selling them at a local farmers market, and reinvesting their profits into maintaining the garden plot. They enlisted the help of a parent with organic gardening skills who provided advice on what flowers should be planted to keep pests away.

The Schlagle students believe that their work makes a difference, not only in their community today, but for others who come after them. As student Irene Fernandez said, “What we’re doing is important for our future. We need to help the environment so future kids like us can continue on.”

Kenosha Students “Grin” for the Environment

A member of the Wisconsin Green Schools Network, the Dimensions in Learning Academy reduces energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, conserves water, and improves air quality in the school’s neighborhood with an innovative program of “idle free zones” around the school. Thanks to the students in the Green Initiative (Grin), Dimensions of Learning was named a Green Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education. 

The K-8 charter school in the southern part of the state is also a PLT GreenSchool. Here’s how they put PLT GreenSchools to work to benefit students and the environment.

Energy Investigation

Dimensions of Learning Academy received Energy Star certification from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in recognition of its efforts to reduce energy consumption. Those efforts have resulted in a 6.8% reduction in the school’s greenhouse gas emissions, and a 3.6% reduction in energy use. These savings are especially significant in a school building that was constructed in 1911, more than a century ago.

School Site Investigation

Students in the Green Initiative (Grin) program at Dimensions of Learning work with adult volunteers on service projects designed to make the school and community greener. One of these is the school garden, dubbed “Food for Learning,” which supplies food for the cafeteria. The garden uses rainwater diverted from gutters and downspouts to fill rain barrels. Students explore the issue of food production during “buy local” field trips to farmers’ markets.

Waste & Recycling Investigation

Grin students created “Landfill Larry,” a figure made of galvanized wire to call attention to the trash that often ends up in landfills. Students covered Larry’s frame with different types of landfill waste that are monitored by the Environmental Protection Agency: paper and cardboard; yard waste, lumber, and construction materials; food scraps; plastics; metals; textiles and rubber; and glass. The students have conducted research about waste, and look for ways to reduce the amount of trash in each category that ends up in landfills. Students used Landfill Larry as a visual aid to teach other students how to be “Waste Wise.”  Their efforts had an effect; the school reached a 50% recycling rate.

Environmental Quality

The school also has a serious commitment to reducing neighborhood pollution. After conducting a transportation audit in 2011, students raised money for  signs showcasing the school’s new idle-free zones—the first at any Kenosha city school. The signs encourage community members to “turn the key and be idle free” in hopes of improving neighborhood air quality and educating community members about responsible environmental behavior. 

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.