The idea behind green schools is nothing new. I think most of us hanging out at a blog called Growing a Green Family for example, are likely way into the idea of greener schools. That said, while a select few advocacy groups are pushing for more green schools along with eco-friendly curriculum plans, the fact remains that very few schools are on board the green train.
Sidwell Friends Middle School – Washington, D.C. – read this school’s green profile (pdf)
What exactly is a greener school?
Plenty of folks can define greener schools. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) says that a green school is a “School building or facility that creates a healthy environment conducive to learning while saving energy, resources and money. Green schools are built and/or operate with the goals of sustainability in mind.” That’s nice, but it really only covers the more physical aspects of green.
I like how Green Schools Initiative lays it out. They note that a true green school is the combined sum of four very distinct parts. Green Schools Initiative has a “Four Pillar” framework that integrates “Efforts to reduce schools’ ecological footprints, make school environments healthier, and get the whole community thinking about solutions to the problems we face.” The Green Schools Initiative also pushes the Precautionary Principle: “Better Safe than Sorry.”
The Four Pillars of a green school include:
- A school that strives to be toxin-free.
- A school that uses sustainable resources responsibly.
- A school that is a healthy and green space for children.
- A school that teaches and engages children in eco-friendly lessons.
You can read the entire Green Schools Initiative report online, for free: The Little Green Schoolhouse: Thinking Big About Environmental Health and Ecological Sustainability in K-12 Schools in the U.S.
My favorite pillar is the last. You can dress up a school as green as you please, but unless you’re also teaching the kids why things like energy efficiency, recycling, school gardening and composting, sustainable materials, transportation, and indoor air quality matter, well, it’s not a very long lasting experience.
Kids need to know about all the elements that make up a green school and know the benefits of green living, or the school is missing a major point.
Rosa Parks School – Portland, Oregon – read this school’s green profile (pdf)
Why have an eco-friendly curriculum?
- Environmental curriculum are simple to incorporate into all subject areas, from math and science to English and art. Since all aspects of life and learning can be made more eco-friendly, options for curriculum planning are endless – basically this isn’t a hard thing for schools to incorporate.
- Kids naturally swing toward and adore eco-issues. Science fair administrators note that without prodding, about 40% of all kid planned science fair projects relate to the environment. If it’s better for kids, why not naturally do it?
- Now, not later, is when kids need to learn about the environment. As a parent hopefully you’re pushing eco-minded lessons at home. However, unless you homeschool or unschool, your kids spend more time with their teachers and schools then you. Lessons on green living should be taught where the kids are, since most kids are in school… well.
- According to the Earth Day Network, schools that teach core subjects but use an environmental context to do so have “Reduced discipline and classroom management problems, increased engagement and enthusiasm for learning and greater student pride and ownership in accomplishments.“
- According to the U.S. Green Building Council green schools cost more from the get-go ($3 more per square foot) BUT actually generate $74 per square foot in benefits due to better energy savings, increased attendance, and teacher retention. Ah, green living – always saving you money!
- Students who attend greener schools are healthier (less toxin exposure).
- Kids who attend green schools may even be smarter – kids who get either “Hands-on experience in a school garden or an environmental education curriculum score higher on math, science, and language arts tests, behave better in class, and have better attitudes about school compared with control groups without such programs,” according to research.
If you don’t yet think green education matters I suggest you read the book Earth in Mind: On Education, Environment, and the Human Prospect; I read it years ago and it changed the way I think about education.
More on green schools coming soon; including tips for green homeschooling. For now, tell me, does your child attend a green school?