By. Anisa Heming, Director of the Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council
Registration is now open for this year’s Green Apple Day of Service. Visit www.greenapple.org to register your school and access resources and information to help plan your project.
If you could do anything for your school, with limitless resources, money, and time, what would you do? Would you improve the school playground or building? Cultivate an impressive library of educational resources? Create new programming to enhance student health and well-being?
For five years, Green Apple Day of Service has presented educators, parents, students, and community members with an opportunity to be creative and make measurable, positive change by engaging in service projects that address a school’s environmental impacts, student and faculty health and wellness, and environmental and sustainability literacy.
Green Apple Day of Service is a unique moment to join together at schools across the world, and to celebrate the central role that schools play in preparing the next generation of sustainability leaders. Over the past five years, we have seen participation from almost one million volunteers in 73 countries, and our actions have impacted the learning environments of over seven million students.
This is the epitome of a local effort realizing a global impact. By activating volunteers in communities around the globe, Green Apple Day of Service delivers meaningful results in schools of every size. Providing students with a hands-on experience that improves their learning environment and engages them with authentic and place-based learning is the best of what green schools offer.
Health Schools: Be Well, Learn Well
We spend 90% of our time indoors, and one out of every six Americans sets foot in a school building every day. Students, teachers, administrators, and community members all interact with learning environments day in and day out. Thus, it is critical that we address how our school buildings and their surrounding environs impact human health and well-being.
Undertaking projects to improve indoor air quality, temperature and humidity, acoustics, access to daylight, and access to nature can have a real impact on how students feel each day, and how well they learn. Students in the United States take 14 million sick days each year due to asthma. Taking steps to control and remediate adverse indoor environmental conditions, such as exposure to carbon monoxide, mold, and dust, could prevent more than 65% of asthma cases among elementary school-age children.
A healthy indoor and outdoor environment is one place to start; another place to begin is in programming or education to support nutrition and healthy habits. A Green Apple Day of Service project is the perfect way to address health and well-being at your local K-12 school, wherever you choose to begin.
Project Profile: School Garden Planting Week
“May in Minnesota is a bit unpredictable—it could be snowing, it could be 85 degrees, it could be raining for days on end,” says Steph Leonard, project manager with USGBC Minnesota. After a bit of it all, the weather shifted and delivered mostly sunshine just in time for the second annual Minnesota Schoolyard Garden Planting Week. Nearly 100 people gathered in the newly built outdoor classroom at Washburn Elementary School to help plant their gardens and celebrate those who make outdoor learning possible.
“The outdoor classroom will serve as a learning and reflection space for the students and as a gathering space for the community, who are welcome to come and learn about sustainable sites that incorporate things like vegetable gardens, native plants, and water management measures. It is an excellent example of how communities can support their schools, schools can support their students, and students can pitch in to an outstanding project that will inspire environmental stewards for years to come,” says Leonard. “As part of planting week, we track each project under the banner of Green Apple Day of Service to better understand need and impact.”
Sustainability Literacy: Read, Write, and Speak Green
Schools educate and prepare students to be responsible and engaged citizens, and a crucial component of their success hinges on understanding the connections between the environmental, economic, and social structures that influence daily life. Education that uses the environment as a context for learning can help improve test scores in reading and math while teaching systems thinking, STEM subject matter, creative problem solving, resource management, and more.
Environmental and sustainability education prepares students for the challenges they will inevitably face as adults. As future voters, household decision makers, consumers, employees, and parents, today’s students will draw on their base knowledge of how natural systems work and how human activity influences the environment, and vice versa, to inform their lifestyles and contributions to society.
One of the most beautiful things about sustainability education is that it can be conducted next to any other subject matter being taught. A lesson in addition and subtraction can be taught from the perspective of a farmer or a recycling plant, or reading comprehension excerpts can be pulled from classic environmental texts. For loads of ideas on environmental and sustainability lesson plans, check out all the new standards-aligned, bilingual, high-quality lessons on the Learning Lab platform for K-12 sustainability content.
Project Profile: Sacramento Unified School District’s Green Week
In 2016, the Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD) used Learning Lab to help shape their Green Week, which used Green Apple Day of Service as a catalyst for a week of sustainability lessons and activities.
“Green Week was a huge success for us,” said Rachel King, sustainability director for SCUSD. “We partnered with community organizations and planned activities all week for schools who wanted to participate. Activities included a plug load audit, waste sorts, walk to school day, all green salad bar in cafeterias, air quality flag program, and of course the culminating Green Apple Day of Service. We had 14 schools participating in various activities throughout the week, and even more participating in International Walk to School Day. We also had our Board approve a proclamation to declare the first full week in October Green Week every year.
“Having activities all week helped build excitement with parents and community members for the grand finale of Saturday’s Green Apple Day of Service,” King adds. “One school that had around 20 volunteers for the Day of Service in 2015 had a turnout of over 60 volunteers for Day of Service 2016 because parents were learning about sustainability activities that their students were engaged in all week.”
Low-impact Schools: Reducing the Footprint
Arguably, a complete and effective education includes some measure of conscious character development. What better way to encourage students to take personal responsibility for their actions and decisions than to involve them in the hands-on improvement of their immediate learning environment?
The operation of school buildings has a huge impact on communities and the environment. From a national perspective, with 2 million acres of land and half the square footage of the entire commercial building sector, schools play an important role in reducing the use of natural resources and supporting local ecology and resilience. Students can learn, understand, and lead in reducing the negative impacts of their schools.
Making changes that improve the classroom experience, both indoors and outdoors, is a powerful first step toward teaching students about their impact on the environment. By updating classroom lighting fixtures, conducting a water or waste audit, or establishing a recycling or composting program, students can have a hand in real changes for their schools and communities.
Project Profile: Recycling in Georgia
Each year, Cass High School in Cartersville, Georgia, kicks off their recycling program as their Green Apple Day of Service project. The students’ project includes creating a video PSA that is used with the school throughout the year as they compete against other schools in their district to be one of the top recyclers. Their Environmental Science AP students also spend time learning about and monitoring the school’s energy use to look for ways to become more efficient.
Elsewhere in Georgia, in Bartow School District, the Sustainability Programs Coordinator coordinated a successful Recycle Bowl last year that diverted 0.5 million pounds of waste from landfill through the efforts of the district’s 26 schools. Green Apple Day of Service helps to kick off the district’s recycling program each year and inspires individual schools to take on other efforts as well, including farm to school food service and habitat restoration projects.
Do It Yourself: Green Apple Day of Service
We know from experience that passion, dedication, and inspiration can go a long way toward making up for limited resources, money, and time. We also know that financial support, volunteers, and other resources can make Green Apple Day of Service projects go farther. With that in mind, we have taken a close look and are rolling out some exciting new changes this year.
The most notable change is that, starting this year, you will register your project at the beginning of the school year and name your own date. Projects themselves can happen at any time from August 2017 through May 2018. However, projects can only receive official support with funding, volunteers, and other resources if they are registered on the website by the end of October.
We have a new website that has been redesigned to provide more of what you need to create a successful project. Resources, information, and project registration are available now at www.greenapple.org.
The new focus is on incentivizing school staff and teachers to lead action at their schools. Schools know what is most needed, and their staff and leaders are the ones who will keep sustainability values strong after the day of action is over. We are making it worthwhile to join in: matching funds are available for supplies through our corporate partners on www.DonorsChoose.org, volunteer assistance is available through our community teams around the country, and fun downloads and planning resources are given to those who sign up. You will find out more about all these offerings when you register a project this fall!
About the Author
Anisa Heming is director of the Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). In 2014, she was named one of the Most Powerful Women in Sustainability by Green Building and Design Magazine. With a background in architecture, she began her work with USGBC in New Orleans, hired to assist with rebuilding the schools after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. After moving to Washington DC, she launched the Green Schools Fellowship Program, which places and trains sustainability directors in school districts. As director of the Center for Green Schools, Anisa provides strategic direction to USGBC’s work in schools and coordinates an organization-wide team to promote environmental sustainability, health and wellness, and sustainability literacy in school systems around the world. She is a Little Rock native and holds a B.S. in Architecture from Washington University in St. Louis and an M.Arch. from the University of Washington in Seattle.