The Green Schools Conference and Expo may be over, but my work with Green Schools National Network (GSNN) is a year-round job that takes me across the United States (and abroad!) to meet and learn about the people, places, and programs who define the green schools movement. My deepening engagement with GSNN over the last few years has opened many doors. This year, however, marks a bittersweet milestone, as I will be stepping away from my role as a School Designer with EL Education to focus my efforts full-time as the Executive Director of GSNN. As my time with EL Education draws to a close, I look forward to assuming a different relationship with the schools I have worked with, namely Harborside Academy in Kenosha, Wisconsin and Explorer Academy in Huntington, West Virginia, and hope to use the lessons learned from my 12 years with EL Education to build our Catalyst Schools and Districts Network and extend GSNN’s reach and impact.
So, what exactly have I been up to over the last three months?
In late March, I visited Thomas Jefferson High School and Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and spoke with teachers and students there about creating a student forum for highlighting issues and projects of interest. I also enjoyed visiting with the Yearbook Team at Jefferson to discuss the publication of the new Green Schools Catalyst Quarterly and tour their BlendEd Academy to learn about their hydroponic gardens and sustainability initiatives.
I traveled to Laurel, Maryland in early April to present at the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Leadership Summit on Environmental Literacy. The summit offered an opportunity for attendees to explore how state and federal agencies can assist school systems in creating and sustaining high-quality environmental literacy programs. I joined Kevin Schabow from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in speaking on how school sustainability efforts result in increased cost savings, student and faculty health and safety, and student academic performance while benefiting the environment.
Continuing my speaking circuit, I headed south to New Orleans, Louisiana in May to host a workshop for teachers, students, and green school advocates and present at the Leadership Luncheon, both held at the U.S. Green Building Council Louisiana Chapter’s Symposium on Sustainability. The workshop offered attendees a chance to share their green school experiences, connect with like-minded educators, learn about new resources, and hear how the green schools movement is making an impact across the country. My presentation at the Leadership Luncheon challenged green building leaders in Louisiana to expand their vision of 21st Century Building Design to include a transformation of the traditional teaching and learning models being used in many schools to incorporate place-based and project-based learning grounded in Education for Sustainability principles and concepts.
In between speaking engagements, I had an opportunity to tour several beautiful and innovative 21st century schools. Accompanied by leading architects and designers from Charlottesville, Virginia’s VMDO Architects, I visited Discovery Elementary School in Arlington, Virginia; Buckingham County Primary and Elementary Schools in Dillwyn, Virginia; and Manassas Park Elementary School in Manassas Park, Virginia. My school visits did not end there. I also had the privilege to tour some amazing green public charter schools, all of whom, I am pleased to report, are members of GSNN’s inaugural cohort of Catalyst Schools. These include The Greene School in West Greenwich, Rhode Island; Common Ground High School in New Haven, Connecticut; New Roots Charter School in Ithaca, New York; and Prairie Crossing Charter School in Grayslake, Illinois.
Speaking of Common Ground High School, I have been involved with one of the school’s special projects called Teaching Our Cities. This exciting project brings together teams of teachers, school leaders, students, other school staff, and community partners from six urban public high schools in the Northeast for a year-long collaboration that will build their capacity to use the urban environment as a learning laboratory, creating schools that are responsive to their cities while growing the next generation of diverse community and environmental leaders.
Looking back, I am amazed at how many places I have been and how many people I have met and shared conversations with over the last three months. Although my travels were quite diverse, I had similar goals for each stop along the way. First and foremost, were the personal interactions; talking with researchers, builders, teachers, and educational leaders to identify best practices and lessons learned that can be shared with you through GreenNotes and the Green Schools Catalyst Quarterly. Aside from the successes, I was also interested to learn more about the struggles and gaps that exist in the green schools movement as well as new resources and tools that are needed for deeper implementation of sustainability education and whole school transformation. Be on the lookout in the coming months for stories and resources that I gathered from my travels. I cannot wait to share what I have learned!
On a personal note, I have been taking some time to hone my leadership skills by engaging more deeply with the Center for Nature and Leadership’s Generative Council. This women’s-only gathering is providing me with a space to reflect, listen, and challenge myself to become a better leader and environmental steward. The break from technology does not hurt either! I am also getting back in touch with my competitive side. On September 10th, I am participating in the Ironman Wisconsin! Like my work with GSNN, my swim/bike/run routine is proving to be an incredible and insightful journey for me, challenging me to push the limits of my athletic capabilities. Stay tuned for an update on my race…and pictures of course!