The U.S. Department of Education announced the recipients of this year’s Green Ribbon Schools awards on April 22, 2016.  As usual, the honorees represent some of the best of the best schools and districts across this country that are working to reduce their environmental footprint and costs, improve the health and well-being of students and staff, and promote environmental and sustainability literacy.  The Green Schools National Network (GSNN) is especially proud because one of our Board Members, Tim Cole, is the Sustainability Officer at one of the winning school districts, Virginia Beach City Public Schools.  What makes this honor even more incredible is, without planning or coaxing, all of GSNN’s Board Members who represent schools or school districts are recipients of a Green Ribbon!  To show my appreciation for the hard work they have done to receive this award, I would like to take a moment and recognize each of the Green Ribbon winners represented on our  Board of Directors.


Virginia Beach City Public Schools (Virginia)

One of the newest members of the Green Ribbon family, Virginia Beach City Public Schools (VBCPS) in Virginia has been moving toward a more sustainable school model for the last twelve years.  The district is driven by three overarching goals: 1) develop a sustainable building infrastructure; 2) integrate sustainable practices throughout the district; and 3) educate the public about sustainability.  It is well on its way to meeting the first of these goals through LEED (new building) and ENERGY STAR (existing building) certification.  To date, VBCPS has completed eight LEED buildings, with a ninth LEED project under construction and a tenth in the design phase, and has thirty-one ENERGY STAR certified buildings.


Other notable highlights of VBCPS’s environmental and sustainability efforts include:

  • A Sustainable Schools Committee with representatives from departments across the district, including custodial services, transportation, and facilities.
  • An appointed sustainable school liaison for each district school.
  • A full-time energy manager and energy management plan.
  • 64 schools with outdoor teaching gardens.
  • Student participation in sustainability education including meaningful watershed experiences, an Urban Tree Canopy Project, and using the LEED buildings as teaching tools.


Conserve School (Wisconsin)

Conserve School, in Land O’ Lakes, Wisconsin, was a 2014 Green Ribbon Award Honoree. A Semester School, Conserve School provides an immersive experience in environmental studies and outdoor activities that deepens students’ love of nature, reinforces their commitment to conservation, and equips them to take meaningful action as environmental stewards.  The school’s very concept and programming make it unique among its Green Ribbon peers and a model for others to emulate.


Some highlights of Conserve School’s environmental and sustainability efforts include:

  • Installing or adopting a range of sustainability features, such as composting and recycling programs; energy monitoring systems; photovoltaic arrays; energy efficient vehicles; and natural and energy-efficient lighting.
  • Promoting wellness by integrating outdoor activities into classes and extra-curricular activities.
  • Producing food on-site in the school’s garden for the cafeteria and partnering with local farmers.
  • Offering an array of environmental and sustainability education options for students such as environmental communications, outdoor exploration and leadership, adventure-based physical education, and Stewardship in Action, where students learn about environmental colleges and careers, listen to presentations from professionals in environmental fields, and carry out hands-on sustainability and stewardship projects on campus.


Greendale School District (Wisconsin)

Greendale School District (GSD) in Wisconsin was a 2014 Green Ribbon Award Honoree.  The district started its efforts with a focus on improving its energy efficiency.  After becoming an ENERGY STAR partner, GSD was able to reduce its energy bills by $200,000 from 2006 to 2011.  During this time, GSD implemented a number of sustainability features including the installation of digital systems for controlling the high school’s indoor environment; a solar energy hot water system to heat the pool and for domestic hot water; and new fixtures and fountains to save water.


Additional highlights of GSD’s environmental and sustainability efforts include:

  • Promoting health and wellness by offering healthy meal choices through the school lunch program and launching its “Get Moving and Stay Active 60 Minutes a Day” initiative for families.
  • Using the high school’s garden as a teaching tool for students in all grades throughout the district.
  • Working with the district’s “Green Team” to incorporate sustainability and energy conservation concepts throughout the curriculum and provide relevant resources to teachers for use in their classrooms.
  • Certifying two school forests, the Greendale Schools’ Canterbury and Middle School woods and the Greendale High School woods, with the Wisconsin Community Forest Pr This certification expanded GSD’s outdoor classroom space, and increased outdoor teaching opportunities within the existing curriculum at all grade levels and across disciplines.


Environmental Charter High School (California)

The Environmental Charter High School (ECHS) in Lawndale, California was an inaugural winner of the Green Ribbon Award in 2012.  ECHS places a high priority on providing students with a rigorous academic experience, using the lenses of environmental engagement and service learning to convey and enrich classroom curriculum.  The campus itself is a living textbook with ample opportunities for learning.   Students spend 25% of their class time outdoors engaging in activities such as tending to raised gardens, chicken and rabbit coops, and green walls or receiving instruction in the recycled-concrete urban outdoor amphitheater.


Other notable highlights of ECHS’s environmental and sustainability efforts include:

  • Implementing recycling and composting programs, and working with vendors that are styrafoam-free.
  • Integrating water- and energy-conservation features throughout the campus, including installing sensors and timers on lights and using smart irrigation systems.
  • Using landscaping features such as a stream, arroyo riverbeds, and swales to help minimize urban runoff, as well as planting native species that are drought tolerant.
  • Growing organic food in edible gardens for use in the school cafeteria.
  • Engaging students in service learning and leadership opportunities through their Green Ambassadors


Evergreen Community Charter School (North Carolina)

Evergreen Community Charter School (ECCS) in Asheville, North Carolina was an inaugural winner of the Green Ribbon Award in 2012.  ECCS is unique in that its educators, parents, students, and community work together to shape the educational experience, and prepare students for successful lifelong learning, social responsibility, environmental stewardship, and service.  The school’s facility, which was built in the 1960s, has been retrofitted to exceed some LEED standards. Some of these retrofits include replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs; installing green bathrooms with low flush toilets, waterless urinals, and electric eye sinks; installing two photovoltaic solar panel systems that offset energy usage; and adding a monitoring tool on the school’s website so that students, staff, and members of the community can see energy and cost savings. ECCS also has rain gardens, native plantings, a straw bale and cob playhouse, a hoop house for winter vegetables, fruit bushes, apple trees, and a vegetable garden on-site.

Besides using the outdoors as a classroom, ECCS embraces adventure physical education where students can participate in sports ranging from rock climbing and white water rafting, to hiking, backpacking, and canoeing.  Each grade participates in an overnight adventure that appropriate for that grade level.  For example, Kindergarten students sleep in the school classroom, while 8th graders embark on a 4-day Outward Bound experience.  These adventures are integral to ECCS’s curriculum and character education, encouraging students to step outside of their comfort zones.


Please join me in congratulating all of the schools and school districts across the country who are committed to creating healthy, sustainable schools for ALL children!  If you would like to make a donation to help GSNN purchase the Green Ribbon Award plaques, you may do so at this link.