On Earth Day, April 22nd 2014, the (U.S.) Department of Education announced the Green Ribbon School Awards; three in Ohio were recipients.
The Green Ribbon Schools award is the first comprehensive green schools program offered by the Federal Government. This award acknowledges schools as a model of excellence and achievement in the areas of a) reduced environmental impact and costs, b) improved health and wellness, and c) effective environmental and sustainability education to serve as models for all other schools to follow.
“Schools can use this sustainability context not only to boost test scores, but to teach students the important civic values and skills that will encourage them to grow into responsible, compassionate, and contributing citizens.” Said Andrea Suarez Falken,
Director of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools. “Furthermore, this interest in the natural world and engagement in environmental concepts from an early age nurtures precisely the type of thinking that the technology and sustainability careers of the future require, whether these students graduate from green career and technical programs or green college preparatory schools.”
Of the 48 recognized schools across the nation, three Ohio schools were selected for the award:
- Metro Catholic School, Cleveland Ohio
- Milton-Union Exempt Village School, West Milton, OH
- West Geauga High School Chesterland, OH
“I was happy to see Ohio opt into the federal Green Ribbon Schools and also serve on the Advisory Panel for the Ohio Department of Education,” said Lisa A. Laney, Sustainability Administrator, Ohio Facilities Construction Commission. “As Ohio is leading the nation in LEED certified schools, the federal program offers direction and recognition for the schools to further their environmental strategies and education. The new or renovated green schools in Ohio give the students and staff a solid footprint on which to begin or further their sustainable initiatives. I am very proud of what the schools across Ohio have accomplished to date and I look forward to what they bring forward in the future.”
Below are excerpts from the three schools Green Ribbon applications, highlighting some of their most impressive green features and programs. The USGBC Central Ohio Chapter commemorates these schools for their commitment to building a healthy, prosperous, and sustainable future for Ohio. The Chapter also offers a special thanks to the Milton-Union community for their efforts to fight Senate Concurrent Resolution 25 this past February: Milton-Union administration, students, and parents joined Ohio business leaders and USGBC national representatives in providing valuable testimony to the Ohio Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
- Metro Catholic School, Cleveland Ohio
Twenty-six years ago, three urban Cleveland parish schools joined as one to form Metro Catholic School. The goal was to create a fiscally sound school that would be available for all urban children, regardless of religion or ethnicity. From this outset, this school has provided cutting-edge educational programs along with a focus on justice issues, especially the environment, now serving 80 percent of students below the poverty line.
The school of 550 preschool through eighth grade students operates out of three buildings that previously were part of the individual parishes. Each building was built in the late 19th or early 20th century, so bringing them up to date environmentally has been most challenging. However, over its 26-year history, the school has continued to move forward in teaching and modeling environmentally sound principles. The 2008 renovation of a classroom resulted in a model LEED classroom for the students and teachers to become familiar with LEED principles. In addition, during the 2013 renovation of a men’s lavatory, Metro took the first steps toward designing all the school lavatories to use water and energy saving devices.
School and community garden projects begun in the 2002-2003 school year for the school’s15th anniversary, and as an antidote to violence in the lives of the students, are ongoing to this day. A junior garden club has been created with a partner adult garden club to maintain the campus through the summer. St. Stephen Parish has built a greenhouse on the school property, and offers education sessions for the neighborhood and students of the school on Saturdays throughout the year. The school boasts a green space as a result of partnership with Detroit Shoreway Community Development Corporation and Cuyahoga Land Bank. The space includes a learning garden, an outdoor stage, raised growing beds, rain barrels, permaculture, a meadow, and a wildlife habitat, along with an outdoor classroom, which is used for instruction and engagement in earth literacy and STEM projects.
Recycling is implemented in all three buildings, and the building housing the preschool through first grade classrooms recently began a program that will bring awareness of how many trees are saved through this process.
Metro has cultivated partnerships with Cleveland EcoVillage, Cleveland Botanical Garden Center, local urban gardens, and local food providers. In addition, the school provides staff with training through Earth Partnership for Schools, Great Lakes; two teachers now have expertise focusing on bioregion and project-based restoration and sustainability.
- Milton-Union Exempt Village School, West Milton, OH
The Milton-Union PK-12 school was recognized by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Educational Statistics and the New American Foundation’s Federal Education Budget as top in the state for highest achievement and lowest costs. Throughout the evaluation, Milton-Union was in the top third of all Ohio schools for achievement and in the bottom third for spending. The Milton-Union Elementary School has been recognized as a National School of Excellence, while both it and Milton-Union Middle School have attained School of Promise status. The School of Promise recognizes schools attaining solid student achievement in reading and mathematics while serving a significant number of economically disadvantaged students.
Milton-Union maintains high educational achievement ratings, and the school’s commitment to energy efficiency and environmental sustainability plays an integral role in keeping costs low. In 2012, Milton-Union replaced old and energy-inefficient buildings with a new combined prekindergarten through 12th grade building. The new building incorporates state-of-the-art environmental system controls and features enhancements to the building envelope for energy efficiency. The new school was awarded LEED Gold certification in 2013.
Energy efficiency and sustainability were at the heart of the building efforts. As a result, energy costs are 36 percent below those expected for a building of similar size. As of October 2013, measured energy costs were $0.90 per square foot, compared to an average of $1.40 per square foot for similar buildings. The building’s rainwater-harvesting system is resulting in approximately 35 percent savings in water cost. From the beginning of the project, the goal was for the building not only to be energy efficient, but also a learning tool for sustainability for students, staff, and community.
The building site is an important resource to the community, with an abundance of natural green spaces that provide an array of teaching opportunities. The site is 130 acres, and was donated to the district in 1973. Of the total area, 44.2 acres are wooded, 8 acres are a former tree farm, 11.7 acres are former fields that have been converted to open prairie, and 2.8 acres are a new detention area and bioswale. In addition, 3.7 acres are dedicated to a park with picnic shelters and open space. The building itself occupies 14 acres. This includes approximately 6.2 acres of paved areas and 3.6 acres of playground, landscaped areas and rain gardens. The remaining 45.4 acres of the site are sports fields. New plantings of water-efficient, native species were included as part of the construction project.
From improved air quality to contaminant controls, the benefits of the building design help to improve the health and safety of students and staff members. Key features, such as rain gardens and a wind turbine, offer unique ecological education opportunities. In fact, the number of renewable energy systems installed at the school provides students direct exposure to a variety of sustainable strategies ranging from solar thermal, photovoltaic solar panels, rainwater harvesting and real-time monitoring of energy use.
A required Earth Science curriculum includes studying the solar thermal system that pre-heats water which offsets the use of natural gas, the impact that a “green” roof makes by absorbing rainwater while filtering dirt/minerals through its roots, the effects of window solar shades related to daylighting and reducing cooling loads, the energy produced by the on-site wind turbine and photovoltaic solar array, the rainwater collection system and the importance of water conservation, rain gardens and bioswales and the importance of protecting water shed areas, and the energy saved by maximizing natural lighting and using photometric sensors to turn off lights in unoccupied areas. Other programs include an elementary school rainforest unit and high school biodiversity unit, a STEM curriculum including the Envirothon competition, and special programs with the Master Gardeners, Park District and Miami Soil and Water Conservation District.
- West Geauga High School Chesterland, OH
Since West Geauga High School began its energy conservation program roughly five years ago, the efforts of energy coordinator Wes Rogge, a social studies teacher, have saved nearly 6 million kW of electricity, as well as over 28,000 cubic feet of natural gas. West Geauga has avoided producing nearly 7 million metric tons of CO2, and has provided the district a savings in utility costs of well over $1,000,000. Through recycling and composting programs managed by student groups, thousands of pounds of solid waste have been diverted from landfills. These tremendous milestone efforts are being realized by educating people about environmentally responsible behaviors, not with new technology, new infrastructure, or construction.
Mike Sustin, the environmental science teacher at West Geauga High School, strives for professional growth and to provide leadership. He has been recognized as the North American Association for Environmental Education’s Teacher of the Year. He is on teacher advisory boards for both the Geauga Park District and the Lake Metroparks, and is involved in program development and alignment. He recently was recognized by Project Learning Tree-Ohio as Teacher of the Year, and has been awarded a seat on the Project Learning Tree-Ohio Board of Directors. He conducts professional development workshops for the popular Project WILD, Growing Up Wild, Project WET, and Project Learning Tree curriculum supplements for teachers, as well as undergraduates in teacher training programs. He runs an award winning Summer Ecology Expedition program for high school students to earn credits on their official transcripts for in depth field studies in ecology, conservation biology, geology, and environmental science.
Energy savings are an ongoing pursuit at West Geauga High School. Recently, all of the overhead lighting in the two gymnasiums was changed from the old sodium vapor lamps to new 80W high power compact fluorescent lights. The lights are brighter, energy consumption is down, and the new bulbs will last longer.
West Geauga partners with agencies like the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Holden Arboretum, Lake (county) Metroparks, Geauga Park District, Cleveland Metroparks, Geauga SWCD, Ohio Vernal Pool Partnership, Western Reserve Land Conservancy, Case Western Reserve University, local landscape companies and nurseries, Brownies, Cub Scouts, and Boy Scouts, as well as Russell, Chester, and Munson Township governments in order to accomplish environmental goals. Each of these partners provides material goods or services, as well as access to some of the best, brightest and creative minds in the business of becoming green. Without these partnerships, student initiatives like rain gardens, Salamander Education and Environmental Diversity (SEED) Trail, diesel particulate filters for all school buses, idle-free zones at all school buildings, plastic and aluminum-can recycling programs and kitchen waste composting program would not have become integral parts of daily life at West Geauga.
Schools are always looking to do more with less. Continued development of the Summer Ecology Expeditions program will provide deeply meaningful field experiences for students, through expeditions in Ohio, Wyoming and Costa Rica. After-school clubs have proven to be effective outlets for students to explore their own efficacy. Key Club handles the paper recycling program, and Interact Club provides opportunities for volunteerism and service learning at the county park districts and at childcare and eldercare facilities. The Envirothon academic competition team has been a platform from which students have developed the appreciation, knowledge, and passion for the environment that has led them into environmental career paths at college. The school’s Lexus Eco Challenge teams have been consistent first place winners with projects locally and globally, including installing composting toilets in Afghanistan.