By. Jesse McElwain, Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council


Every year, students and teachers around the world join with community members to participate in Green Apple Day of Service to learn about the environment while implementing changes at their order ambien schools.  This year, as news channels split their attention between wildfires in the west and another precedent-setting flood along the Mississippi, it is critical that students learn not just about the role that water plays in their local ecosystems, but how they have the power to make a difference.


Dunloggin Middle School Oyster Gardeners

Five years ago, students from Maryland’s Dunloggin Middle School went on a field trip to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to learn about the Bay’s ecosystem.  After dredging an oyster reef and finding only one live oyster, the students were driven to take action.  They researched Maryland’s oyster harvesting history and set up an oyster gardening program in their science lab, raising baby oysters and releasing them to sanctuary reefs every year.


Since beginning the oyster gardening project, the students, dubbed the Dunloggin Middle School Oyster Gardeners, have worked with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Kentmorr Marina, and Dr. Don Meritt from the Horn Point Oyster Hatchery to raise, nourish, and relocate more than 15,000 oysters to the Bay.  The program has grown each year, with more students raising and releasing healthy, young oysters.  Dan Blue, a science teacher who advises the Oyster Gardeners, says, “Our goal is to have these kids understand that they’re part of a regional community. Even though they aren’t right on the bay itself, they can help affect the bay in a positive way.”


Dunloggin is frequently recognized within its region as a leader in environmental education through its use of unique real-world learning experiences and problem-solving curriculum, like its riverbank erosion restoration project and constructed wetland water purification program.  A 2012 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School, Dunloggin participated in last year’s Green Apple Day of Service alongside other Howard County schools in planting a sensory garden. Given their close proximity to one of the most precious watershed ecosystems in the United States, Dunloggin students are beginning to understand the role water plays in their environment.


“This is real science,” says Blue, speaking of the Oyster Gardeners. “The kids that are here doing this right now, this is all a voluntary activity; it is done outside of school hours. The best part of this is that it’s getting kids out of the classroom and outside to do real science work. They’re able to gather the data that they need and analyze the data. It touches a wide range of disciplines and things that they’ve studied through sixth, seventh, and eighth grade science.” And perhaps most importantly, “they learn the importance of taking care of this precious resource – the Chesapeake Bay.”


See the Oyster Gardeners in action. 



Sacramento City Unified School District’s Project Green

For the 2015-2016 school year, 14 schools within the Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD) used Green Apple Day of Service to kick off the fifth year of a unique program – Project Green – that unites environmental education and facilities management.

source: Sacramento City Unified School District

(source: Sacramento City Unified School District)

Each year, SCUSD chooses a theme for Project Green (for 2015, that theme was water). Participants – students, staff, stakeholders, and community members – develop, design, and implement projects that transform school sites for the benefit of the environment and everyone in the school.  Students from each of the district’s campuses form “green teams” supported by parents and school staff who are responsible for auditing facilities and collaborating with SCUSD and local professionals to suggest improvements.  The students gain hands-on experience conducting research, developing designs, and – in collaboration with facilities managers –implementing their ideas to reduce a school’s environmental footprint and improve the health and well-being of students, teachers, and staff.


Rachel King, Project Green Specialist at SCUSD, explained, “for the program’s fifth year, the district decided to focus on a topic that many Californians have become familiar with: water conservation.” Students conducted research on the drought impacting their state and audited their school to determine how much water was being used inside and out. Equipped with this knowledge, the students then brainstormed ideas on how to reduce the amount of water consumed by their school by making improvements to their school facilities.


Each school participating in last year’s Project Green presented their project to a panel of judges on Earth Day 2016, and the district awarded all 14 schools funding to complete their projects, which included low-flow bathroom fixtures, smart irrigation controllers, and native landscaping, among others.


This fall, SCUSD will begin work on these water conservation projects for Green Apple Day of Service as part of its first annual Green Week.  SCUSD Green Week will encourage schools to participate in sustainability themed activities and lessons each day, from installing new rain gutters and upgrading irrigation systems to replacing walking paths with permeable surfaces and planting outdoor learning gardens with native and drought tolerant plants.  The week will conclude on Saturday, October 8th with a community service day.  


Green Apple Day of Service Water Projects

Is your school looking for a project to do for this year’s Green Apple Day of Service on September 24th?  Consider one of these activities below:


Install Rain Barrels

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has put together a step-by-step guide for students to capture rainwater using rain barrels, which can help students learn about the water cycle while reducing water usage for irrigation and toilets.

Here are a few steps to put rainwater to good use:

  1. Learn more about your local watershed: where does the school’s water come from and where does it go when it leaves the school site?
  2. Identify a level area near a downspout on the school or campus grounds to install a rain barrel, and get approval from a school administrator for the project.
  3. Find a large waterproof container that you can use to create your rain barrel. Install a downspout diverter that will allow the water to flow into the barrel from the downspout but divert out to the storm sewer if the barrel gets full.
  4. Have fun decorating the barrel and then install it at the school.
  5. Encourage teachers to incorporate water education into their lesson planning using in-depth curriculum resources from U.S.Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Learning Lab.


Conduct a Water Audit

Conducting a water audit at your school is an easy way to get students thinking about their own environmental impact. Here is a step-by-step guide to conduct a water audit at your school:

  1. Contact the principal or a school facilities administrator to get their support for conducting a water audit in one of the school buildings. 
  2. Conduct a walk-through of your school and its grounds to identify all of your water connections.
  3. Find out in advance the last time any of the fixtures may have been updated and whether or not any efficiency measures have been taken to use less water. Request a tour of the building with a custodial staff member.
  4. Use a water audit worksheet like the one from Eco-Schools USA to calculate your school’s current water usage.
  5. Install faucet aerators and advocate for leaks to be fixed. Aerators are small and inexpensive devices that can be screwed directly onto a faucet where the water comes out to slow the flow of water, cutting the gallons per minute nearly in half.
  6. Encourage teachers to incorporate water education into their lesson planning using in-depth curriculum resources from USGBC’s Learning Lab.


Visit for more ideas on how to engage your school and community in protecting your local watershed and reducing water use for Green Apple Day of Service.


About the Author

Jesse McElwain works to amplify the voice of the Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council, writing and creating engaging multimedia content. He is particularly focused on getting students – of all ages – interested in sustainability and climate change. Jesse studied architecture and urban planning at Cornell University, though is better known for (and frequently teased for) spending his time founding and then developing Cornell University Sustainable Design (CUSD) into a 200 student endeavor with more than 20 faculty advisors and projects on three continents. Jesse orchestrated a media campaign focused on student and alumni support for Cornell’s “NYC Tech Campus” proposal, a $2 billion academic development on New York City’s Roosevelt Island. After Cornell won the bid, Jesse began working for Entrepreneurship@Cornell, developing programs connecting students with startups in Ithaca and Manhattan and opening POPSHOP, a co-working space just off Cornell’s campus. He continues to advise for 6 startups.