Why become an Eco-School? The Eco-Schools program helps students, schools, and the larger school community better understand what it means to be socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable. Through Eco-Schools, students learn more about environmental issues and explore ways in which they can apply that learning to lead more sustainable lives and improve sustainability practices in the classroom and beyond.
A growing body of research demonstrates the impacts that both environment-based education and outdoor learning have on students’ academic performance. Using the environment provides authentic, place-based opportunities for students to learn. For some students who find a traditional classroom setting difficult, the outdoor application of academic skills provides an avenue for them to be successful.
Students in the Eco-Schools program learn to provide creative solutions for issues that impact their local community and the world. The program aligns to national standards and allows students to make use of 21st Century Skills such as collaboration, communication, creativity, and innovation. Eco-Schools USA also aligns with STEM certifications offered by high schools and offers curriculum and activities that teachers can use to advance STEM-related goals, ultimately preparing them for green STEM careers. By integrating environment-based education, students are excited about and motivated to participate in project-based STEM learning because they have a stronger connection to the natural world.
Eco-Schools pathways provide many opportunities for students to collectively take action for the environment, including reducing a school's carbon footprint, improving plant and animal biodiversity, improving air quality within and around a school, building wildlife habitat, reducing food miles, and improving watershed health.
Through select grant opportunities, participating in Eco-Schools may have the opportunity to draw teacher stipends and monies toward greening action projects. Some schools are also eligible for mini-grants to implement sustainability projects.
Students across the country have implemented sustainability programs that have made a genuine impact on the environment. These include zero-waste initiatives, recycling and composting to reduce trash in landfills, conserving energy, reducing air pollution put out by cars, and increasing local food production. Some schools even grow food and use it for lunches or donate it to their community soup kitchens.
Many schools and districts have benefited from cost reductions through decreased energy and water usage. Some schools have saved more than $1,000 a year on their water bills as a result of program participation.
Particularly in urban areas, Schoolyard Habitats allow students to develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for close connectivity of habitats, providing urban and migratory wildlife a better chance of survival.