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.

PLT GreenSchools Investigations Benefit an Outdoor Education Center

The Civilian Conservation Corps built what is now Camp Waskowitz more than 70 years ago. True to its conservation history, the outdoor education center is also highly relevant today.

Highline School District has sent students to Camp Waskowitz for outdoor education programs since 1947. Since then, more than 200,000 students have participated in environmental education and team-building programs there.  In addition to the 1,200 sixth-graders from the Highline School District who attend programs at Camp Waskowitz each year, some 1,600 5th and 6th graders from neighboring districts also attend week-long environmental education programs at the school. Waskowitz Outdoor School has been a part of the PLT GreenSchools program since 2009.

The school’s Green Team is composed of eight high school students enrolled in the Waskowitz Environmental Leadership Semester (WELS). These students live in the cabins with the younger students, and serve as role models and mentors who lead the investigations. These students also have created environmental skits that they perform for the 6th grade students that feature Captain Planet, Trashbuster, and other environmental superheroes.

Energy Investigation

Because of the historic nature of its buildings, Camp Waskowitz lost energy through the cracks in doors and window frames that didn’t quite close.  After completing the Energy Investigation, the school’s Green Team recommended weatherstripping to cut down on energy loss. “Weatherstripping has allowed us to reduce our electric consumption by 12%,” reported the school’s director, Roberta McFarland.

Waste and Recycling Investigation

After completing the Waste and Recycling Investigation, students recommended composting the school’s food waste and proposed a recycling program to reduce the amount of trash sent to a landfill. Composting the 70 pounds of food waste the school generates every day has reduced Waskowitz’ garbage pick-up schedule from once a week to once every two weeks. A side benefit: composting converts waste and carbon into great garden soil.

The school also uses TerraCycle to recycle other items.  By using this service, which provides waste-collection programs for hard-to-recycle materials and turns them into affordable green products, Waskowitz Outdoor School has reduced its landfill trash by 288 cubic yards, and saved $2,800 per year in fees.


A School Nature Trail Creates a Pathway to Learning

Interactions with nature and green space have lasting impacts on learning. Kindergarten students at Hillside Elementary School in Niskayuna, New York, put this theory into action when they worked with fifth-graders to complete a nature trail that stretches four-tenths of a mile along the perimeter of their school’s property.

Initially, kindergarten teacher Christine Mathews thought to have her students create a map of a trail as part of their lessons. Mathews, along with fifth-grade teacher Christine O’Reilly and librarian Debbie Urbriaco, wanted to provide outdoor learning opportunities for their students and a walking trail for residents who live near the school property. The idea soon evolved into a collaboration between classrooms, and a more hands-on and involved project that engaged students with their community to build their own trail.

Finding Support

They researched nature trail designs and grant opportunities. One of the grants they applied for, and received, was a Project Learning Tree (PLT) GreenWorks! service-learning grant. As a prerequisite for the grant, Mathews attended a PLT workshop to learn how to use the environment and the outdoors to engage students in learning.

Fifth-graders class joined with the kindergarteners in planning the trail, serving as mentors to their younger counterparts. Together, they designed a logo, created a map and a guide, and researched plants to place along the pathways. A parent volunteer who is a professional landscaper and the school’s head custodian helped the students design the trail. Students, parents, and other volunteers spent several weekends on the project, and about 75 people participated on the final day of work that included planting trees and a butterfly garden.

Celebrating Good Work

When complete, Hillside held a nature trail dedication ceremony to recognize the contributors and celebrate their accomplishment. I was invited to give the keynote address and told the audience that the trail represents a symbol of service, of community, and a dedication to getting students outdoors and getting them to experience everything that nature has to offer. After the formal program, students from the kindergarten and the fifth grade led the rest of the school in walking the trail, and local press covered the event.

The positive connection between nature, education, and community was clear. Throughout the process, the students took skills learned in the classroom and applied them to cooperatively improve their environment. The town’s residents also benefited from working with young people to beautify their surroundings to creating a place for them to also experience nature and learn from the things we can find in our backyards.

Tips for Teachers

student holding hand in circle around treeMathews shared tips for success that extend to many other aspects of school:

  1. Pairing older and younger students provides learning experiences for them both. Even before we wrote grants or had approval for constructing a nature trail, we were committed to establishing a strong relationship with our classes and finding ways for the older children to mentor the younger ones. Based on classroom observation, teachers paired students according to strengths and needs. However, the relationships take time to develop, and doing specific activities together, such as our friendship books, really helps.
  2. To involve other grades or classes, make it as easy for them as possible. For example, provide some funding or suggest specific options they can choose to do, such as the butterfly garden created by the school’s third-graders.
  3. Get support from the principal. Our principal believed in us teachers and in the project. She encouraged us to take risks.
  4. Children learn best by seeing and doing. We organized weekend or after-school hikes to see other nature trails nearby. Parents were involved by bringing their children to the events and stayed to participate. As a community of learners, our students took pictures and recorded their observations to show and discuss what they had seen with those who could not attend.
  5. students dig hole for treeAsk parents for help. Students, their parents and families were invited to participate in the construction day. We organized people into small groups based on the interests they indicated on a RSVP form (laying ground cover, posting signs, planting trees, etc.) and assigned a parent to be “team leader” for each group. In addition to our parent who was a landscaper, another parent was a carpenter who could help with the signage. A parent who could not participate in the construction was more than willing to organize the refreshments.
  6. Teach kids about trade-offs and future action. They could not accomplish all they would have liked, but they learned to prioritize. They are now seeking funding for benches and other features.
  7. Ask local businesses for donations. Many businesses are willing to donate and sometimes all it takes is a letter from your students explaining why their project is worthwhile.



Energy, Recycling, Gardening Projects Green a City High School

A high school courtyard has been turned into a verdant garden with 25 raised garden beds, a small pond, and concrete paths.
A bare courtyard at Wyandotte High School has been transformed into a verdant garden with 25 raised beds, more than 60 species of plants, an automatic watering system, a small pond used to teach water sampling techniques, and concrete paths — all constructed primarily by the students.

High school science teacher Michael Hotz has “been doing green things for years and years and years.” Ever since his school, Wyandotte High School in Kansas City, KS, became a Project Learning Tree GreenSchool, “we’ve been able to do so much more,” he says.

Growing Gardens–At School and Beyond

One of the first things that captured Hotz’ imagination when he came to the school more than a decade ago was its enclosed courtyard, which Wyandotte students have gradually transformed into a thriving garden spot. “Now we have 25 raised beds, more than 60 species of plants, an automatic watering system, a small pond used to teach water sampling techniques, and concrete paths-all constructed primarily by the students. It’s cost-effective labor – and they learn things. It’s amazing how enthusiastic they are,” said Hotz.

Hotz’ students raise vegetables and strawberries, which the students can take home to share with their families. “So many times, the kids don’t know where their food comes from. They’re amazed when they can pick a strawberry and eat it right off the plant,” Hotz said. Because Wyandotte’s student body represents 23 different ethnic groups, the gardens also include plants native to the students’ cultures.

Taking their gardening expertise beyond school grounds, Wyandotte students have worked with community members to transform vacant urban lots in their school’s Kansas City neighborhood into community gardens.

$100K in Energy Savings Help “Save the Teacher”

High school student uses technology to conduct an audit of the school's energy use.
Budget shortfalls and threatened staff cuts added urgency to the Wyandotte Green Team’s search for energy savings. They launched a “Save the Teacher” campaign, hoping to save enough energy to equal a teacher’s salary. By turning off lights and letting natural light stream into classrooms, they more than met their goal, saving the school $100,000.

Because they study in a school building constructed long before energy efficiency was a widespread concern, the PLT GreenSchools Energy Investigation has been the springboard for many money- and energy-saving projects.

“Our students used the information they gathered from the Energy Investigation to launch a ‘Save the Teacher’ Campaign,” Hotz said. “Our school was faced with the threat of staff cuts due to budget shortfalls. The goal of the campaign was to save enough energy to make up the cost of one teacher’s salary.”

“We counted all the lights in the hallways and classrooms,” student Yehimi Robles explained. “We found that classrooms would have the lights on even if the sun was shining. Now, not many classrooms turn on all their lights. I’m glad we were able to make some changes.”

Those changes have made a big difference. Robles continued, “By analyzing energy use and implementing changes – like using the natural light admitted through our old school’s many windows, rather than turning on electric lights in classrooms – we were able to save $100,000, more than enough to meet our ‘Save the Teacher’ goal!”

PLT GreenWorks! Grant Helps Launch Recycling Program

High school students use bins and carts to collect items for recycling from around the school.
A PLT GreenWorks! grant helped the Wyandotte High School Green Team purchase bins and carts to launch a recycling program that now involves the whole school. In one year, students recycled 17,000 pounds of paper, plastic and aluminum — allowing the school to get rid of one of its trash dumpsters.

A PLT GreenWorks! grant helped Wyandotte develop a highly successful school-wide recycling program that spilled over into many students’ homes. The grant helped the school purchase recycling bins to replace the cardboard boxes that had been used to haul recyclables to their pick-up point.

Thanks to better equipment and a solid commitment by everyone in the school, Wyandotte students recycled some 17,000 pounds of paper, plastic and aluminum in one year alone. “And they’re spreading the word at home,” Hotz said.

Hallmark Cards, whose corporate offices are in Kansas City, provided added inspiration. “We had a field trip to Hallmark and got a lot of great ideas from them,” Hotz said. “They have a ‘zero-landfill’ corporate model, and have two individuals who work full-time on their corporate recycling program. It was inspiring to the students to see what’s possible.”

“As much as we can, we’re trying to get the school and community involved in a dialogue about environmental issues that affect us all,” Hotz says. “PLT GreenSchools has helped us do so much.”



Clean Energy for Bright Futures

Bloomfield Vocational Technical School (Bloomfield Tech), a PLT GreenSchool in Bloomfield, New Jersey, is an ideal laboratory for the program’s student-led investigations. 

The school’s Green Team, facilitated by teacher Todd Menadier, has completed all five of the investigations. In the process, they found ways to make their already green school even greener.

Bloomfield Tech is an unusual school, offering a Green Energy Academy as one of four career clusters available to its students.  Green Energy Academy students study the environmental, economic, political, and social impacts of energy usage, and are encouraged to think about alternatives to current energy models. The intensive energy-focused curriculum, combined with a strong academic program that has earned Bloomfield Tech a coveted Blue Ribbon School designation from the U.S. Department of Education, prepares students for careers in the green energy field.

The school’s focus on energy led to innovative—and money-saving—projects, as students completed the PLT GreenSchools Energy Investigation. With help from $8,070 in PLT GreenWorks! grants, students designed and installed systems to monitor temperature, humidity, and energy use in the school’s greenhouse 24 hours a day. They even designed an “app” that turns off grow-lights in the greenhouse remotely from a SmartPhone if the automated monitoring system indicates there’s enough light to meet the growing plants’ needs.

“We have installed systems that give us more data and, as a result, have achieved significant energy savings,” said Menadier. “We installed a 400-watt wind turbine and a 1 kw solar system to provide power for the greenhouse,” where the students raise vegetables for school families and for distribution to needy community members.

Students enrolled in the program have become polished and articulate ambassadors of the PLT GreenSchools program, not only in their community but also to national audiences.  A student team made a presentation at the annual meeting of the  National Youth Leadership Council in Minneapolis. They also were featured presenters in a PLT GreenSchools webinar.

A formal partnership with the local power company, Newark-based PSE&G, means that Green Energy Academy students make regular presentations to company executives and staff. They also have presented their work to the local school board, and to New Jersey staff of the international consulting firm Ernst & Young.