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Green Hour

Featured Case Study: December 2010-January 2011

Environmental Learning Indoors and Out at Round Elementary

At George C. Round Elementary School in Manassas, Virginia, the Green Team meets before school every other Friday morning. Thirty to forty K-4 students gather to explore outside and work on projects to benefit the planet. The team’s leader, Susan Ridgeway, is enthusiastic about getting students outdoors and connecting them with their environment.

The Green Team was at work before Round Elementary joined the Eco-Schools USA program. Now the program is helping them to focus their efforts and involve the entire school.

First they tackled the energy pathway. The team devised a fun but meaningful way to monitor energy use. Susan and small groups of kids conducted random checks of classrooms. If a room was empty, they noted whether lights, computers, printers, and smartboards were on or off. They’d bestow a gold star if everything was switched off. If energy was being used unnecessarily, they’d leave a “While you were out” note as a friendly reminder. Says Susan, “The kids loved being the ones checking on their teachers.” The third graders compiled the data and made bar graphs to show the results over time.

Now they have a second pathway underway. The Green Hour was a natural fit. The school already had a nature trail on site, and through the Green Team’s efforts, it is a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat®. Teachers are convinced that it’s important to get kids outside, and the principal is supportive. Still, they have to justify the educational value of anything they do. Several creative solutions are in place to help teachers meet that challenge.

  • Nature Tubs. Two bins – one for grades K-2, one for grades 3-4 – are available to teachers. Each contains 3 or 4 lesson plans and all materials necessary for activities on the nature trail. Susan explains that teachers can simply grab them and go with minimal preparation.
  • Idea Board. To help teachers share their ideas for teaching outside, as well as lessons, books, and other materials they’ve found useful, Susan set up a bulletin board and table in the staff room. As teachers post their successes, it helps to create a school culture that supports extending the classroom into the outdoors.

According to Susan, students are currently heading outside for class at least once a month. Science and math are the most popular subjects to address outdoors, but teachers are also finding ways to incorporate subjects such as reading and social studies. A benefit for students who are part of the Green Team is that their before-school activities need not directly correlate with standards and testing; the kids are free to simply explore, wonder, and follow their curiosity.

Susan attributes the success of the Eco-Schools USA program at Round Elementary to several assets. The nature trail is a great resource. They have administrative support, and teachers are eager to participate. Students are enthusiastic and involved. For other schools working to build their program, Susan recommends taking advantage of the many resources you’ll find in your community. For example, a contact at the Audubon Society helped her identify plants and animals on the nature trail, and then she used information from Virginia Tech’s website to compile a field guide for students and teachers to use. “Look around and you’ll find people who want to help and get involved,” she urges.

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