By: Chris Pianta


The environmental education program at New Hope Christian Academy in Memphis, Tennessee flourishes despite the school’s limited funding and resources, exceeding expectations for a little school in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Memphis. It is the unwavering commitment of the staff and students that makes its example shines so bright.


Students are given many opportunities to help protect the environment through the school’s Environmental Club. Members make announcements at school about reducing water and energy usage and paper towel use. Many classes have an “energy police” position to help the class stay on track with their energy awareness. Last year, the school created the “Bust the Energy Hog” campaign to further their awareness. If a classroom was doing a good job reducing their energy usage, they were rewarded with bacon bucks. Light switch plates were installed with reminders to turn off the lights when the room was not being used.


The Environmental Club also helps the surrounding community by cleaning neighborhood storm drains several times each year and installs “only rain down the drain” markers on behalf of the city. During Earth Week, the students made a series of video announcements about how to help the Earth. Additionally, thousands of pounds of paper and cardboard have been recycled by the school and countless bags of food waste and yard waste have been collected for their composting program.


photo credit: Mary Leslie Ramsey


New Hope has been incredibly innovative with their efforts to expand their environmental education program. Their after-school clubs offer students a chance to work on two recently developed projects that provide opportunities and experiences that many students may not otherwise have. In 2013, the school acquired an adjacent vacant property with the goal of transforming it into an urban farm. Today, where the vacant lot used to be, sits an extensive garden that doubles as an outdoor classroom for students to learn about plants and the food that comes from them. Each week during the growing season, New Hope has a Pay-What-You-Can-Veggie Stand that allows families to get fresh organic foods at a price they can afford and try healthy foods like kale and swiss chard. These can be expensive foods that they might not be able to afford at the grocery store, especially in a suburb of Memphis that could be described as a food desert. The school also offers healthy cooking recipes to share when trying these new foods. New Hope has even included two bee hives at the Farm. This helps increase vegetable production and offers a great avenue to discuss honey bees and their recent struggles with declining populations. The fifth-grade students are the honey marketers. They harvest the honey, bottle, and sell it within the school community.


In 2015, the school secured another neighboring abandoned and neglected wooded lot. The students have spent the last couple of years cleaning up the site, removing invasive species, planting natives, blazing trails, and creating a forest environment that many of the students have never experienced. A storm drain that runs through the middle of the forest has been transformed into a model of the Mississippi River, named the “Mini-ssippi” River, complete with bridges and educational signage to teach the students about the importance of the major waterway located in their backyard.


photo credit: Mary Leslie Ramsey


New Hope is always looking for new and creative ways to expand their environmental education program. Their continuing efforts resulted in the school recently receiving the Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Award in the “Environmental Education and Outreach – Schools” Category, the most prestigious award in the state recognizing outstanding achievement for successful environmental projects and conservation measures.


Christopher Pianta works for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Office of Sustainable Practices.