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.

 

A Culture of Environmental Stewardship

Environmental education resonates through the hallways of Fishburn Park Elementary School in Roanoke, Virginia, where students promise to continue caring for the earth at school and at home. The school, which bases its environmentally focused K-5 curriculum on Project Learning Tree, won a coveted Green Ribbon School designation several years ago from the U.S. Department of Education.  Many of the school’s teachers have participated in PLT training.

Evidence of Fishburn Park’s environmental focus is everywhere, from the many outdoor learning areas on the school’s 10-acre campus, to the hallways of the school’s main building, Trout Hall.

School Site Investigation

The school’s grounds include two pond habitats, a large vegetable garden, separate raised garden beds for each grade, a butterfly habitat and migratory bird station, a recycling/compost center, and walking trails.  Fishburn Park students plant and cultivate a variety of native Virginia trees and plants; in one year alone, they planted 24 indigenous trees on the campus. The school also boasts a grove of sugar maple trees, planted in the 1990s and now reaching maturity. With help from a Virginia Department of Forestry forester, students tap the trees in the early spring to make maple syrup.

Trout Hall hosts a multitude of creatures, including salt and freshwater fish, lizards, turtles, birds, and a worm habitat. The school’s hallways are home to “grow carts” for plants, and feature displays of Fishburn Park students’ environmental artwork.

Water Investigation

Water conservation is a major focus at Fishburn Park. Three large rain barrels, installed with help from community business partners (Lowes, Coca Cola, and Norfolk Southern), are connected to the school’s gutters, and students use the collected rainwater to hand-water raised garden beds.  All growing beds are mulched with natural materials to reduce water evaporation from the soil, as well as erosion and water runoff.

One group of 4th graders collected samples from nearby streams and conduct tests to determine pH levels, temperature, turbidity, and dissolved oxygen. Their findings led to classroom discussions about the health of the stream.

When 3rd graders conducted similar tests on a school pond, they found it was not a healthy environment for aquatic life, and researched ways to make the pond healthier. As a team, the students decided to clean the pond, add fresh water, and add new fish and plants. They then monitored the pond to see if their efforts made a difference. Even the youngest students at Fishburn Park participate in water conservation activities; kindergarten classes have developed a program to teach other children how to conserve water.

Waste & Recycling Investigation

Recycling and composting also are important to Fishburn Park’s culture of environmental stewardship, and the school’s efforts have become a model for the entire Roanoke school district.  For example, the cafeteria replaced Styrofoam products with compostable cardboard-based materials. By composting these products and cafeteria food waste into soil, Fishburn Park cut trash dumpster use by nearly 50 percent.

Fishburn Park’s 2nd graders participate in Virginia’s “Trout in the Classroom” program. They raise trout from eggs and care for the growing hatchlings, monitoring the temperature and pH level of the fish tanks until the exciting day when the students can release the young trout into a Virginia river.

All aspects of Fishburn Park’s curriculum are geared toward improving students’ STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) skills through hands-on environmental learning. Students practice critical thinking, conduct investigations, and learn to apply problem-solving and research skills to answer questions like “Why aren’t the seeds germinating?” and “Why is the corn infested with stink bugs?” They keep journals to explain and visualize their thinking, and use graphs and charts to communicate their knowledge. They collect data on local and global environmental problems, and develop action plans to implement local solutions.

Nature Is the Best Teacher at Learning Gate

With a school motto of  “nature is our best teacher,” environmental education infuses everything in the Learning Gate School’s campus and curriculum. The Florida school’s 27-acre campus includes nature trails, wetlands, and a large organic garden maintained by the school’s students. Originally a private school founded 25 years ago by local schoolteacher Patricia Girard, Learning Gate became a public charter school in 2000, and now serves 800 students in the Tampa Bay area, with a waiting list of more than 600 students. Parents play a big role in Learning Gate’s programs: they are required to volunteer 30 hours a year and take 10 hours of parent education classes.

Learning Gate is a Certified PLT GreenSchool and the school also was one of a select group of 78 schools across the U.S. to be named by the U.S. Department of Education to the inaugural class of Green Ribbon Schools in April 2012.

Students of all ages participate in the ecological curriculum, and students spend 30 percent of their day in outdoor classes. Students also are required to complete a Junior Master Gardening program, and through their efforts, the school donated more than 2,200 pounds of produce from the school’s organic garden to a local charity one year alone.

Here are some other ways they have put the PLT GreenSchools investigations to work.

Waste & Recycling Investigation

Kindergarteners initiated a “waste-free lunch” program; 3rd graders spearhead the school’s composting project; 4th grade students are responsible for ink cartridge recycling, and middle-school students operate the electrical recycling program.

Water Investigation

A 10,000-gallon rainwater harvesting system helps put grey water to good use both indoors and out. The school was the first in Florida to use cisterns—water-collection systems for rainwater and dew—to flush toilets. After completing the Water Investigation, students recommended that the school install hands-free faucets to replace leaky conventional faucets in some of the school’s older buildings, which they estimated wasted nearly 30 gallons of water per day. A PLT GreenWorks! grant allowed them to purchase 15 new faucets, and a volunteer grandparent who owns a local plumbing company installed the faucets—and donated an additional two. The school’s Green Team does a weekly check of school buildings and classrooms to monitor water use and quickly identify any leaks.

Energy Investigation

As they completed the Energy Investigation, Learning Gate students used a watt meter to measure the amount of electricity used by televisions, computers, phone chargers and even electric pencil sharpeners left plugged in while not in use. They presented their findings on so-called “phantom” energy in brochures, posters and demonstrations to fellow students, teachers, staff, parents and community members to encourage everyone to unplug devices that were not being used. Thanks to the students’ recommendations, classroom lights are now controlled by sensors.

School Site Investigation

Learning Gate was the first school in the nation with a building that meets the U.S. Green Building Council’s requirements for LEED Platinum certification. Students did all the research to decide what components would go into the new building, and presented their findings to the teachers and administrators who made construction decisions.

Environmental Quality Investigation

Learning Gate is  a mercury-free school, with no mercury thermometers or liquid mercury on campus. The school adopted an Integrated Pest Management plan—a sustainable approach to managing pests by combining biological, cultural, physical and chemical tools in a way that minimizes economic, health, and environmental risks. Learning Gate also adopted practices that mandate proper labeling, use, storage and disposal of cleaning and laboratory chemicals and, whenever possible, has reduced the use of such chemicals.

Off the Grid, but Deep into Learning

The STAR (Service To All Relations) School is a charter school located in rural northern Arizona, 30 miles from Flagstaff in the southwestern corner of the Navajo Nation. The community-based school serves a population of students that is entirely Native American. The school’s green, sustainable infrastructure helped earn it its designation as one of  the U.S. Department of Education’s inaugural Green Ribbon Schools in 2012.

From the Sun and the Wind

STAR School was the first charter school in the country to be completely off the power grid, generating 100 percent of its own power from the sun and the wind. Using solar energy, this innovative school prides itself on keeping greenhouse gas pollution out of the atmosphere. Solar power inverters used to power the school provide a minute-by-minute record of the carbon dioxide the school has saved the planet.

The land on which the school is built formerly served as a junk yard, and the property had no power or water lines. That led to the decision to design the school to generate its own power, and to provide its own water from a well. “Between solar and wind, we generate nearly 40,000 watts every day. We’re a mini power plant,” said the school’s co-founder and director, Dr. Mark Sorenson.

Navajo Traditions

While its remote rural location necessitated the school’s reliance on renewable energy, the decision to use renewable energy fits well with the principles of sustainable living that are intrinsic to the Navajo community the school serves. In addition to promoting renewable energy sources, The STAR School promotes self-reliance, and aims to prepare its students for the world of environmental challenges, empowered to contribute to a more sustainable future.

Sustainability education complements and reinforces the oldest Navajo traditions throughout the school. Students maintain a garden using Navajo practices and serve traditionally prepared, organic harvests in the school cafeteria. The school partners with Northern Arizona University to gather data on air, water, and soil quality, and to provide student mentoring in engineering and sciences. Each student is expected to complete an individual or group project during the middle-school years that meets identifiable national STEM standards, investigates and provides possible solutions to environmental and sustainability challenges chosen by the student, and provides service to the community.

STAR Energy, a student-made documentary short about Solar and Wind Energy at the STAR School, was produced by a team of 7th– and 8th-grade students, and won First Place in the Middle School Microshort category at the Arizona Student Film Festival. The film also won the Grand Prize for the Middle School Age Division at The Colorado Environmental Film Festival in Golden, CO. In addition to the energy video, the school’s media program has produced other short films with environmental themes.

Green from the Blueprint

greenschool-hawaii’Ewa Makai Middle School is located on the south coast of the Hawaiian island of Oahu.  The school opened its doors in January 2011. In just over a year, it earned high honors for green building construction and environmentally-focused academics.

A Green Design

Construction began in July 2009. From the start, the school was designed and built to meet the strictest green building standards.  ’Ewa Makai has earned LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council for its use of recycled materials, use of natural daylight, and energy- and water-saving lighting and plumbing fixtures. In addition, cleaning products, furniture, and computers meet green certification standards, and 60 percent of school waste is composted, using worms and barrels to produce fertilizer for the school garden. Paperless classrooms make wide use of iPads, PowerPoint presentations, e-mail, e-books, and laptops.

The school’s focus on the environment earned it a Green Ribbon School designation from the U.S. Department of Education.

Project-Based Learning

Learning at ’Ewa Makai  is project-based, with teams that focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) skills. The school’s science classes cover aquaponics, solar cells, solar cars, windmill generators, ecosystems, and robotics.

Seventh-grade students constructed raised garden beds out of recycled materials, and used them to raise herbs, vegetables, and watermelon. They’ve made soups, salads, and kale chips out of their harvest, which they have shared with teachers and fellow students. To involve parents and community members, the students sponsored a Community Gardening Night, where they gave away lettuce, onion, radish, and tomato seedlings—and soil to grow them in—to 200 attendees.

All this makes for a very green school, based on a very green blueprint.

Students of All Ages Help Pollinators Thrive

Pollinators play an important role in the production of the food we eat, the health of flowering plants we love to admire, and so much more!

With reports of declining numbers and health of pollinators, it’s important to teach students the impact pollinators have on our lives. One way to do this is to support the creation and revitalization of habitat where pollinators of all sizes can thrive.

Every year, Project Learning Tree awards GreenWorks! grants for environmental service-learning projects, such as creating school gardens and natural habitat for pollinators. 

In 2011, Project Learning Tree, with support from the U.S. Forest Service and the Prince William Network, awarded 28 PLT GreenWorks! grants to schools and community programs in 20 states.  The grants enabled students to create gardens and new habitats for pollinators as part of the PollinatorLIVE: A Distance Learning Adventure program.

Here are three noteworthy projects from around the country:

Elementary Students in Virginia: A Village of Pollen

Village Montessori School in Bluemont, VA, involved elementary students, teachers, and parent volunteers in creating a “Village of Pollen.”

Their garden is made of three sections: meadow, woodland, and pond-side. Students researched, planned, and created this breathtaking addition to their outdoor classroom and found native plants that were appropriate for each area of their garden.

“The rains came, the sun shone, and a new plant grew,” said one student during the school’s garden dedication. Students dressed up as the sun, flowers, butterflies, bumblebees, and gardeners to perform an interpretive skit that they wrote about their garden. 

The project helped bring students, parents, teachers, and community partners together to enhance student learning, support the growth of the school’s outdoor classroom, and create new habitat for native pollinators.

 

Middle School Students in California: EARTHS Community Garden

Along with their teachers and community members, students at EARTHS Magnet Middle School in Newbury Park, CA, designed, planted and now maintain a community garden with a native plant pollinator labyrinth.

This project provided a great opportunity for inquiry-based and cross-curricular learning.  Students first studied parts of a plant during their classroom units on plants and insects and incorporated activities from PLT’s PreK-8 Environmental Education Activity Guide (for example, Activity #24 Nature Recyclers, Activity #41 How Plants Grow, Activity #64 Looking at Leaves, and Activity #65 Bursting Buds.)  They also learned about weather, soil composition, and Native Americans’ (Chumash Indian) use of native plants.

Having plants available for students to see, touch, and smell increased their understanding of how the Chumash people, as well as pollinators, rely on native plants.  Planting and taking care of these plants increased their sense of environmental stewardship.

 

High School Students in Minnesota: Land Restoration Project

Bees, butterflies, birds, and other pollinator species can also find new habitat around Wright Technical Center and Wright Learning Center (WTC/WLC) in Buffalo, MN.

Students in grades 6-12 helped restore biodiversity to 5.2 acres of old cropland on their school property by planting native vegetation. They set up an indoor nursery for native species and had 10,000 plants growing in there at one time!  Students also created an outdoor classroom as part of the project that now serves eight cooperative school districts.

“They [students] love the concept that they’re doing something for the environment and they can come back in 10 or 20 years from now and say ‘I had a hand in making this facility’,” said Craig Hagberg, science teacher at WTC/WLC.

Before, this area received regular complaints and was an eyesore in the local community. Now, it’s on its way to becoming an incredible outdoor space and will provide many learning opportunities for students and community members for years to come.

 

Making Progress

Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve and World Wildlife Fund Mexico reported that the number of monarch butterflies migrating from Canada and the U.S. to Mexico increased in 2011. This was good news for the many Project Learning Tree students and teachers who worked hard to create butterfly gardens in their schools and communities as part of MonarchLIVE in 2010

However, the overwintering monarch population has since declined again, reinforcing the need to do more in the U.S. to conserve and restore milkweeds to assure a future for these beautiful butterflies.

We hope that through the efforts of PollinatorLIVE and the many students and community members who are working hard to maintain, improve and create pollinator habitat, we will see improved numbers in the future — not only for monarchs, but for all pollinators.

PollinatorLIVE is a partnership between Project Learning Tree, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Prince William Network. For more information, lesson plans, and resources please visit the PollinatorLIVE website.

The Little Green Schoolhouse That Could

The Willow School in Gladstone, New Jersey, dubs itself “The Little Green Schoolhouse.” That’s because Willow is one of the first schools in the nation to adopt sustainability as an integrated concept. The school’s progressive commitment to sustainability, both on its campus and in its curriculum, earned it a rating by the National Geographic’s “Green Guide” as the nation’s second greenest school several years ago.

A small, independent, coeducational day school, the Willow School is committed to fostering academic excellence, a passion for learning, and the development of an ethical approach to all relationships—including  students’ relationship to the natural world.

The school is ideally suited for exploring, experiencing and learning from nature. The 34-acre campus allows for on-site studies of forests, wetlands, water quality and groundwater systems, and the changes that come with the seasons.

Willow encourages all of its students to work toward making their communities healthier and more just, to appreciate the beauty and wonders of nature, and to relate to their natural environment “as stewards rather than conquerors.” Its academic curriculum is designed to further those goals, and was cited as one of the factors that helped the school become one of the U.S. Department of Education’s Green Ribbon Schools in 2012.

Energy Investigation

The school’s barn, a multi-use building, is LEED Platinum-certified by the U.S. Green Building Council, and uses 70% less energy than would an identical building constructed to meet minimum code requirements. The Barn generates 37% of its own electricity  using renewable photovoltaic technology. Super-insulated walls and ceilings, high-performance windows, high-efficiency heating and cooling systems, and the maximum use of daylight rather than artificial light help maximize energy savings.

Water Investigation

Reducing water use also is a priority for the school. Collected rainwater is used to flush all toilets, and bathrooms feature low-flow faucets. Drought-resistant landscaping on the school grounds features native trees and plants, and requires no irrigation.

In this environment, it’s no wonder the school’s students are encouraged, from the earliest grades, to play an active role in the conservation curriculum, with the school’s garden and recycling program sharing the spotlight.

School Site Investigation

Every grade has a garden-centered project tied to studies in science, history, and social studies. For example, 2nd graders create a Lenape Garden, growing the ancient “sister” crops of corn, beans and squash.  Fifth-graders use the garden as a point of reference to compare it to the ancient agricultural societies about which they are learning. At the end of the year, 8th graders lead the entire school in a Harvest Soup celebration, inviting the community to share the year’s garden crop.

Waste & Recycling Investigation

In addition to recycling paper, plastic, and other conventional materials, The Willow School takes steps to keep non-recyclable items out of landfills. Kindergarten students collect hundreds of pounds of bottle caps, which corporate partner Aveda melts down to create new product packaging.  Third-graders collect items like spent cell phones, yogurt cups, juice pouches and other non-recyclable items. These are shipped to TerraCycle, which pays a few cents for each item collected, and then upcycles the items into new products.

Proximity to the New Jersey coast also offers environmental learning opportunities. During the year, every student has the opportunity to plant a stalk of beach grass and nurture it in the classroom for several weeks. The plants are used to teach the benefits these grasses bring to the landscape and wildlife of the state’s coastal ecosystem. When the grass plants are hardy enough, students travel to the shore to plant the grasses.