Friday, February 20, 2009

Going Green - The high school edition

This week, I met with the Community Liaison for one of our local high schools. She contacted me to help them "get the whole green mentality in our high school." Now I may not know a whole lot about high schools these days (I mean, it has been about 17 years since I set foot in one), but I have learned a thing or two in the last few years about making changes in our daily life. So I steered my advice down that road. So how exactly do we go about greening our high schools? Here is my take...

I fully believe that we as humans put our energies toward the things in which we are personally invested. Want a greener high school campus? Put the kids in charge.

Gather a group of interested students and have a teacher or administrator act as mentor. Let the students lead the group. Have them identify ways in which they would like to see the school improve its environmental footprint. Let them spread the word and recruit friends into the effort.

Have the students start by writing a mission statement for what they'd like to achieve with the group; name it. Then get those ideas rolling. Some suggestions might be:
  • Food - compost food waste from kitchen, recycle food packaging, start a school garden and use the harvest to supplement the school kitchen and/or donate to the local mission or food bank.
  • Trash - determine what is recyclable in our area, provide proper receptacles within easy reach, create a sign campaign to encourage recycling, work with city programs as well as Terracycle for more information on ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle.
  • Air Quality - establish a no-idling zone in front of school.
  • Energy - change bulbs to CFLs, turn off/unplug equipment, lights, and monitors when not in use.
  • Water - install low flow aerators on sinks and low flow shower heads in locker rooms.
Most importantly, I felt, was to concentrate on education/outreach...
  • Education/Outreach - Start an environmental movie or book club. Visit local sustainable farms. Visit the local landfill, recycling, and composting facility. Discuss current events like our new landfill, actions by the EPA/FDA/Congress, Earth Day, gas price increases, etc. Invite speakers from the community to come and talk to the group.
Let the students, as they learn more about the problems facing us, decide where they feel they can make a difference. And don't forget to contact the local paper and TV news station as you achieve your goals. There's no reinforcement like being recognized by the entire community (and what better way to get the parents behind it than to have their kids recognized publicly for their wonderful efforts). 

Most importantly, however, go slowly. Have the group select one or two initiatives a year. Just like the rest of us, if we try to do it all at once, we get overwhelmed and are more likely to give up. But if we take it step by step, educating ourselves along the way, we become empowered by our successes and inspired to do great things.

So what about everyone out there? What green initiatives have you seen in your schools? I'd love to pass along more ideas to our local community liaison...


Green Resolutions said...

What a great opportunity for you!

I'm not involved with our local school (yet), but I've read about gardens & edible landscapes at public schools and I think this would be a great project for a school!

Green Bean said...

This is so cool, Heather!

I cannot emphasize enough the go-slow mentalitity. I am part of the green team at my son's K-8. At the beginning of the year, we sat down with grand plans for solar panels and local produce. The budget battles beat us on that one but what I like about your list is that most of it is inexpensive or will actually result in a cost savings. My son's school does much of that already BUT the water stuff. I need to look into that - especially given that California drought.

A note about the movies, I just read that The Story of Stuff was banned at a Minnesota school after a teacher showed it there to start a discussion. Seems outrageous.

Farmer's Daughter said...

There are also competitions for these students to get involved with. We do one in CT called "Cool it!" to help reduce the environmental impact of the school. There are also contests for kids to make videos, develop solutions to local environmental problems, etc. I would encourage you to check out what's available in your state.

My school has two environmental clubs: The Environmental and Botany Club and Project Green (recycling club). Many kids belong to both. It's such a fun experience to work with passionate kids! (I'm mentor of the Env. and Bot. Club, and our accomplishments last year included the Green Awakening Fasion show).

Heather @ SGF said...

Green Resolutions - It was a great meeting and it was fun to think outside the box and apply some of the things I've learned in the last few years to a different sector. I just hope my perspective helped.

Green Bean - That's awful! I thought the Story of Stuff was very powerful. Definitely a good resource to motivate us all! If anyone's not seen it, view "The Story of Stuff" here:

Farmer's Daughter - I hadn't even thought of contests. That's great!

Wendy said...

As a homeschooler, I probably see the whole school system from a different light than most people :).

I think the answer to the problem of waste in our schools that no one is considering, but which is probably the simplest, and thanks to technology, would actually be a pretty easy fix, is "Virtual Classrooms." In fact, schools have had the ability to do this sort of thing for a very long time, and it seems a little bit archaic to continue supporting these energy vampire buildings when for 1/10th of the cost of supporting the building, communities could provide computers and a LAN to every student.

There have been a lot of studies on the savings to companies who hire/allow telecommuting, and those same savings would apply to the schools, as well.

Heather @ SGF said...

Wendy - That's actually something I never thought of. Are there any school systems attempting this now?

timeus said...

With regards to students "telecommuting" to school in order to cut back on the vast amounts of energy and waste created by brick and mortar schools, timeus has a few questions/comments/concerns:

1) At what age/grade should telecommuting commence? Middle School? High School?

2) Are we really going to leave thousands of children (under 18) at home, potentially with no supervision as many households in this country are two-income based?

3) Some lower income households might not have internet access. Who is going to pay for it?

4) How would timeus have winked at a girl in class? timeus thinks text messaging a ";)" wouldn't have had the same effect.

5) While this addresses energy and conservation, and could potentially work with regards to the education of a student's classes in the mindset of teaching the subject of the particular class being taken, it begins to erode away the other types of education that brick and mortar schools provide, most obviously social education. The job of a school is not to merely teach subjects to students, but also to mimic real life once that student has become an adult. Jobs requires a person to get up in the morning, (most people) shower, and take some time on his or her appearance (this is not the case for timeus; if you are wondering why, look up the meaning of the name "timeus."). A person then associates with coworkers (other students) in a structured environment (office=school), some of whom are friends, some that person can't stand, and some that person can't remember what their names are. The person's boss (teacher) requires you to work, and compensates you accordingly (grades). It could be very dangerous for a generation of children to associate normally until age 14, then (assuming colleges are just as wasteful and go the same route) throw these people back together in the workforce 8 years later while they've had much less of a chance to learn their place in society (is that person a leader, a follower, a suck up, a bully...), and at such an impressionable, difficult, and confusing age.

Home schooling may be best for some, but the non-quantifiable ramifications of home schooling for all outweigh the interests of energy and waste conservation, though the concept is noble.

But that is just timeus' opinion.

And there are most certainly areas that can be worked on at brick and mortar schools to raise awareness and increase efficiency and conservation.

Heather @ SGF said...

Timeus - ALL very excellent points! Thanks!