There are many models of state programs to recognize and support greening our schools. Some are housed in state departments of education, while others are administered by an independent non-profit.
Connecticut’s Green LEAF Schools is yet another model, a collaborative partnership of four state agencies and more than 30 education and environmental interest groups. The Connecticut movement started in 2011, framed by the U.S. Department of Education’s goals for their Green Ribbon Schools program (ED-GRS). Our original state team included members of the environmental education committee who helped to write Connecticut’s Environmental Literacy Plan. As we looked at the Green Ribbon goals, encouraging environmental and sustainability education, supporting health and wellness, and helping schools to measure and manage their facility’s resource use, we knew that we’d need to cast our net broadly to bring together all of the state’s organizations who provided resources and programs in these areas.
In February of 2012, we called together a meeting of representatives from organizations and state agencies. More than 50 were in attendance and shared their vision of what a state green schools program could be. That effort grew to be a steering committee who met monthly to shape what would become Connecticut Green LEAF Schools. The Steering Committee is co-chaired by a staff person from the Connecticut State Department of Education, and myself, from the Institute for Sustainable Energy at Eastern Connecticut State University. Over time we have had up to 20 active members, representing Connecticut’s Education, Energy and Environmental, Public Health, and Administrative Services agencies, as well as representatives from more than 20 environmental- or education-focused organizations. Each member has a personal interest in sustainability in our schools, as well as a desire to share their professional services and programs. This has made for a rich, strong, and united group. Many are still participating, now 5 years later.
Although our state was not ready to sign on in the first year of ED-GRS, our group took this time to design something that was uniquely Connecticut. We all agreed that, as Connecticut is a small state, we needed to concentrate on growing greener schools, and not just recognizing those few who had achieved that goal. The elements we developed are the steps we still follow today. To participate, a school’s administrator needs to submit a letter of commitment. Once signed up, the school is listed as a Green LEAF participant on our website, www.ctgreenleaf.org. We have grown from 5 schools in 2012, to 102 schools and 3 districts in 2016.
Next, we have the school develop their green team and complete a self-assessment. Over the years, that tool has grown and been refined. Originally we offered a self-scored point system, which has evolved to concentrate more on encouraging depth and breadth in each category, patterned after the 3 goals of ED-GRS, but with a Connecticut twist. Along with ED-GRS goals, we promote uptake of local and state programs and adherence to state environmental laws. The assessment buy ambien fast shipping tool has grown to include a “roadmap” document, assisting schools in understanding what their next steps in each category might be, leading them to greener actions in their own programs. Schools return their assessments to our organization and are awarded with a banner that can be hung in their school. We encourage schools to revisit their assessment every two years to measure growth and inspire new initiatives. Completing the assessment also allows our group to identify needs and assess progress. Schools that have comprehensive sustainability programs in all three goal areas are invited to the next step, applying for ED-GRS recognition. Our organization supports the school in writing its application and in vetting potential honorees. To date, we have promoted 12 schools and 1 district for this honor. Every one of our completed applications has become an ED-GRS awardee, and both our awardees and application process have been recognized by the Department of Education as great examples to follow.
Over the years, Connecticut Green LEAF has received several prestigious awards. We were recognized in 2012 by the Center for Green Schools’ Best of Green Schools for Best Collaboration, and in 2016, as a finalist for the Connecticut Green Circle Sustainability Award. Overall, my favorite honor is to be called on by another state to share how Connecticut has grown our thriving program, and how we have expanded to now serving 102 members. That expansion has included a successful yearly Best Practices in Sustainability Education Conference, and workshops in different topics from our self-assessment. We were awarded a $167,000 grant from our Office of Higher Education for professional development and support in designing lessons that include a focus on the environment, including use of Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards skills. We continue this work by adding and sharing lessons, and indexing promising practices of the many ED-GRS honorees from the past 5 years. Connecticut has also worked with other state groups in New England to share the challenges of greening our schools, including compliance with state environmental laws.
Our Connecticut next steps include a comprehensive program awarding electronic “badges” to schools who have made progress in their steps toward sustainability. We are also moving to include Connecticut Green LEAF in a new Connecticut community sustainability rating system, similar to Sustainable Jersey. This will help us to increase recognition and expand grants and other offerings to our schools, while providing a sustainable funding source for our program. Green in growing in Connecticut!
Laurel Kohl is the co-chair of Connecticut Green LEAF Schools, along with Jeff Greig of the Connecticut State Department of Education. Laurel is the education specialist at the Institute for Sustainable Energy at Eastern Connecticut State University, were she provides energy education and outreach to Connecticut’s K-12 schools. She encourages others to visit www.ctgreenleaf.org and to share the resources that Connecticut offers its schools. She may be reached at KOHLL@easternct.edu or 860.465.0256, and is happy to talk with others!