"These schools are models of environmental education."
Recognizing their commitment to wildlife protection, sustainability and environmental education, the National Wildlife Federation is honoring America’s Top 10 Eco-Schools. The schools represent districts from coast to coast and from cities to rural communities, showing schools can be sustainable whether they’re surrounded by skyscrapers or farmland.
"These schools are models of environmental education, with students, parents, teachers and staff taking action to strengthen their science, technology, engineering, and math programs by using nature and hands on experiential opportunities to academic achievement,” said Collin O’Mara, president and chief executive officer of the National Wildlife Federation. “These schools are creating outdoor living laboratories and habitat on their grounds, reducing energy and water use, and improving recycling—all of which provide opportunities for students and save money for school districts. We salute these shining examples of how we can come together to inspire the next generation of conservation stewards and build communities where people and wildlife can grow and thrive."
The National Wildlife Federation ranked schools based on their commitment to environmental education, the school community’s work to making the facility more sustainable, and making school grounds more wildlife-friendly. Many of these schools are representative of entire districts working to become more eco-friendly:
Academy for Global Citizenship (Chicago): The Academy addresses food sustainability coming and going, with half of its food produced locally and organically and a zero-waste food program. Solar panels produce 851 kWh of energy for the school. Students average over 3 hours of outdoor learning each week.
Alder Ave Middle School (Egg Harbor Township, N.J.): Alder Ave Middle School has been engaged in creating a healthy, energy-efficient school environment that incorporates environmental and sustainability practices at all grade levels since 2000.This green flag school has saved 1,305,632 kWh of energy, preventing 20,763 lbs of CO2 from being emitted into the atmosphere. The school has also cut waste by over 22,000 lbs and has developed a community teaching garden.
Brooklyn (N.Y.) New School (PS 146): An elementary school with a dedicated core curriculum centered on sustainability that’s been in use for more than a decade, students at this Green Flag school spend an average of 200 minutes per week learning outdoors. Teachers focus on experiential, hands-on instruction and creating a healthy environment for all students.
Centreville (Va.) Elementary School: Centreville Elementary has earned not one but two Green Flags, showing dedication to multiple facets of sustainable environmental education. Since its work with Eco-Schools USA has commenced, the school has reduced its energy use by 20 percent and has expanded its outdoor learning classrooms that are now home to a wide variety of life: praying mantises, ladybugs, bees, spiders and butterflies, goldfinches and bluebirds.
Earth’s Magnet School (Newbury Park, Calif.): EARTHS Magnet School for K-5 has a curriculum that is interwoven with environmental science and technology. The school grounds have extensive gardens, mirroring California’s biomes, and students spend an average of 45 minutes per week in outdoor learning. EARTHS is also part of the Eco-Campus Partnership Program, with a sister school in Taiwan.
Eisenhower High School (Goddard, Kan.): Eisenhower High School is also a Kansas Green School and a certified Monarch Way Station. Students spend an average of 125 minutes per week in outdoor learning, and the campus has 300 culturally significant plants and grasses in their outdoor space that’s cut the need for water.
Green Tech Academy at Clint Small Middle School (Austin, Texas): Clint Small Middle School’s Green Tech Academy earned Texas’ first Green Flag. Students created an extensive garden with more than 300 native plants. The campus also has an outdoor classroom, a greenhouse, a chicken coop, composting, recycling, water-harvesting, and a Japanese garden. Twenty-five percent of the school’s food is produced locally.
Heritage Elementary School (Highlands Ranch, Colo.): Heritage Elementary promotes sustainability throughout the greater community, hosting events and acting as an example for other schools. Twenty percent of the school’s food is produced locally, and the grounds have a garden and innovation space to immerse students in sustainable learning. Areas of focus include compositing, recycling, and water and energy conservation.
J.C. Parks Elementary School (Indian Head, Md.): JC Parks Elementary has achieved both Green Flag status and US Department of Education Green Ribbon status. Parks jump-started its sustainability efforts with the installation of an outdoor classroom and transformation of school grounds, and incorporates native plants and permeable pavers in its landscape, as well as recycling, composting, and renewable energy programs.
Jitta Bug Learning Center (North Miami, Fl.): Jitta Bug Learning Center is the first pre-school in the country to achieve Green Flag status with Eco-Schools USA. The center has extensive outdoor play and outdoor learning for its 2-to-4-year-old students and is also a “Let’s Move” child care center. The center uses only healthy cleaning products and is reducing water use.
Honorable mention: Patton Middle School (Kennett Square, Pa.): Charles Patton Middle School is the first school in Pennsylvania to receive the Eco-Schools USA Green Flag and is a U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School. Patton has a composting program, solar array, protected wetlands and classes that go outside to explore nature and conduct science experiments. In July 2015, the PA Green and Healthy Schools Partnership adopted the Eco-Schools USA Framework statewide.
The top 10 schools saved a combined $207,914.75 in energy, water, and waste diverted or saved. If every American school (public and private) saved at the same rate, the savings would total $2.7 billion nationally.
“These schools directly connect students with science, putting classroom knowledge into action by spending an average of more than two hours a week learning outdoors,” said Kevin Coyle, vice president of education programs at the National Wildlife Federation. “Many rankings of the greenest schools look mainly at facilities, and a new building is certainly a great way to reduce long-term impact. But what these schools show us is that you don’t have to wait for a brand-new building – a dedicated school community can take action right now with their existing facility to cut their environmental footprint and educate America’s next generation of science and conservation leaders.”
The National Wildlife Federation’s Eco-Schools USA challenges schools to conduct an environmental audit, formulate an action plan, and engage the entire community in implementing solutions. Schools are able to achieve several levels of certification: Bronze, Silver, and the highest achievement of Green Flag. All of the Top 10 schools have reached Green Flag status in their programs; some implemented extensive solutions across multiple focus areas and earned a second.
To help reconnect today's children to the outdoors, the National Wildlife Federation also assists schools in developing outdoor classrooms called Schoolyard Habitats, where educators and students learn how to attract and support local wildlife. These wildlife habitats become places where students not only learn about wildlife species and ecosystems, but also outdoor classrooms where they hone their academic skills and nurture their innate curiosity and creativity.
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