By. Hannah Traggis, Director of Student Engagement for Project Green Schools, and Mark Thekkethala and Eugen Cotei, Student Co-Presidents of National Green Schools Society



Every year, the number of opportunities for K-12 students to engage in, and be recognized for, exemplary enviornmental work continues to rise. One of these opportunities that continues to be held in high regard is the National Green Schools Society (NGSS). NGSS is an Environmental Honor Society, hosted by Project Green Schools, that provides a structured, chapter-based framework for high achieving, environmentally focused students in schools and organizations across the country and world. This framework supports the creation and implementation of local projects that have extraordinary impact on schools, local organizations, and communities. Students pledge levels of environmental service, work together and with broader community members, and receive state and national recognition. NGSS student members are also invited to participate in state, regional, national, and international student networking groups where they can share ideas and inspiration to create even greater impact at higher levels.


Project Green Schools is a national, youth-focused, environmental organization based in Mansfield, Massachusetts. Our mission is to develop the next generation of environmental leaders through innovative programs, resources, and diverse opportunities for students in grades 2-12. We believe that empowering student voice through education and encouragement to take action develops the strong and independent thought necessary to effect real change for our greener and healthier future.


Project Green Schools was started by educator Robin Organ a decade ago with the goal to support student driven initiatives that take on real-world problems to improve human and environmental health. Inspiring learning through problem-based projects, we carry out our mission through a series of unique tools and strategies.


Project Green Schools works hard to support student environmental initiatives however we can. We offer free, e-STEM based curriculum for projects that any student or student group can implement in their communities. With twelve topics ranging from food and agriculture to water and energy, these pathways provide service-based learning opportunities. Along with our freely available curriculum, we offer trainings for teacher professional development to support chapter efforts and keep motivation for success high.


Professional and leadership development is important for students, and we encourage our students to attend and present their ideas at conferences and events around the state, country, and world. This not only boosts confidence and increases communication skills, but connects students with other like-minded students and leading environmental professionals and scientists. We organize the annual Green Schools Summit, co-organize the Massachusetts Water Forum Youth Summit, and encourage student attendance and presentations at many other environmentally focused conferences. For example, students have attended the White House Event on Climate Change and Public Health, and a delegation of students were sent to COP21 to participate in United Nations Youth Events and deliver a message to the world from our NGSS student leadership team.


Project Green Schools also supports two Green Student Leadership Councils, one at the national level and one at the New England Regional level. Our newest networking group for middle and high school students is the New England Green Student Leadership Council, and is comprised of students nominated from each state across New England. The National Green Student Leadership Council is open to all NGSS students and is governed by elected student leaders, including a unique co-presidency model that facilitates innovative cooperation.  All of these students come together to share ideas and best practices to tackle environmental issues on state, regional, and national levels. These students attend conferences together and organize their own session at the Green Schools Summit to explore ways to take action to effect meaningful change.


Through involvement with all aspects of Project Green Schools, students develop knowledge and essential skills to prepare them to be free thinking leaders that are ready to tackle real world problems. We work with students and encourage them to think broadly about solutions that require a multi-faceted approach. Students deepen STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) knowledge, well outside of that taught in class, as they independently delve into their projects. To successfully implement a truly impactful project that serves their community, students also gain knowledge about the economic and societal impacts of environmental issues and work to create innovative solutions. Students also develop a stronger sense of themselves and more clearly identify with what drives them to work hard and love what they do.


Successful Project Green Schools students learn and hone effective problem solving skill sets. They learn project development and management through the initial proposal process, timeline updates, implementation, and reporting out on project completion. We encourage students and provide opportunities for them to attend and communicate their projects and ideas at local, regional, and national conferences, where they have the opportunity to speak in front of audiences ranging from their fellow students to environmental professionals, law makers, and teachers. Students have attended events at their own State Houses, the White House, and COP21.


Today, students are more informed and concerned about the future world than ever before. We are seeing rapid, irreversible changes and it is important that they know their work and actions are the future. We also believe that bringing strong student leadership voices together leads to amazing and synergistic solutions. We strive to create the strongest student networks possible through all of our resources and programs. We continue to drive the green conversation forward through our monthly newsletter and through a vast social media outlet.


Hard work deserves meaningful recognition. Annually, we recognize student environmentalism with our Green Difference Awards. Students of all ages receive awards for outstanding environmental service and those completing 100, 150, or 200+ hours of environmental service enter our Honor Roll for bronze, gold, or green levels of service.


The impact of our work has reached more than 6,000 schools and 500,000 students in 10 countries. Collectively, NGSS students have contributed over 15,000 hours of environmental service for the betterment of their community and world, and we have seen over 600 students entering environmentally related higher education and green workforce jobs. Students have effected real policy change and continue to make meaningful impacts on the world around them. We believe that empowering and motivating students of all ages to care for the world around them, find their voice, and take action for a clean future is the way to create a better, healthier, and cleaner world for all of us. Please continue reading to hear from our NGSS student co-presidents, Mark Thekkethala and Eugen Cotei, about the inspiring work they are doing to make a difference for us all.


National Green Schools Society Student Co-Presidents’ Statements



Mark Thekkethala

Project Green Schools has changed my life. From giving me a platform to explore my passion for the environment to developing skills required in the workplace, NGSS has been a stepping-stone for me into my future endeavors. As a middle-school student, attending Project Green Schools events taught me that I could affect real change even at my age. The work of student members within NGSS inspires kids to take on the call to save the environment.


I have always had two seemingly disconnected passions: the environment and technology. Working with NGSS, I was exposed to the reality where my passions became intertwined and a career path was revealed. My passion for the environment stemmed from my asthmatic condition that had an unexpected upside: it illuminated a stark understanding of how the air we breathe affects millions of people. From this point on, I had always wanted to do something for the environment, but I was not sure what. Being a part of NGSS gives kids like me the tools and resources to take on real-world environmental challenges today. With money I saved working as a summer camp counselor, Project Green Schools guided me to funding the beginnings of an international sustainability project for the St. Charles orphanage in India to install a solar-powered hot water heater.


NGSS helps build well-developed students who are prepared for both college and the workplace. Personally, attending Green Business events, speaking at conferences, and implementing projects has vastly improved my project-based thinking, networking, and public speaking skills that I know will be crucial in my future. Next year, I plan to major in Environmental and Computer Engineering to continue my journey towards environmental action and awareness.



Eugen Cotei

Simply put, without NGSS, I would never be where I currently am achieving my dreams, goals, and aspirations. Without the networking links developed, people met, and skills gained, I would not be as respected in my local and national community or know what I would end up doing for the rest of my life. So far, I have attended numerous national conferences and meetings that have all given me many chances to develop my public speaking skills as well as clearly learn to communicate in a cohesive, tangible manner. I have gained crucial respect from environmental experts I have met nationwide because I was given the opportunity to dive deep in environmental sciences and occurrences during every single NGSS event I have attended. My community has grown from local to national and international, as I have met experts from across the world sharing the same passions that NGSS has helped me to develop.


Furthermore, I have explored different career options because I have met leaders and scientists working in those exact fields. I can ask every question that comes to my mind and be certain that every time I am answered, it is a thoughtful, caring, and truthful one. Being surrounded by motivated individuals, friends or adults, has not only helped me diversify my viewpoints on certain aspects of the world, but also keep me motivated in the long run as we all work as a unit toward a similar goal. Of course, my resume has Project Green Schools stamped all over it, but most of my college application essays also contain some type of reference to the environment, and without NGSS, I would not have been able to progress with such steadfast commitment toward bettering myself and the future of our planet. Fostering a burning desire to care for our planet, NGSS, without a doubt, has been one of the best things that has happened to me in my high school career.


Although at times the temperature soars to 120 degrees, volunteers never shy away from serving their communities in Las Vegas, Nevada. Planting trees, picking up trash, and making our community a true home is how everyone should spend their summer days. By uniting together and creating a team, we have the power to enact true change in our environment. Getting outside and getting involved is simple: grab a friend and get to work. Don’t get left behind, take action today to leave a better world for tomorrow!


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About the Authors

Hannah Traggis is a plant biologist and educator at the Massachusetts Horticultural Society where she teaches people of all ages about growing and using healthy food at their homes and throughout their communities. She also serves as the Director of Student Engagement for Project Green Schools and works to empower the student voice to take environmental action for a cleaner and greener future for our world. Hannah is also passionate about bringing school garden education to all children. An avid organic gardener, she also runs the Quabbin Composting and Organic Gardening Program in Barre, Massachusetts. This robust school garden program engages high school students with hands-on education in resilient local food systems and economy, resource conservation, sustainable and low-input organic agriculture, and environmental stewardship.


Mark Thekkethala lives in Medway, Massachusetts and is currently a senior at Xaverian Brothers High School. He joined Project Green Schools in 2010 and is now a Student Co-President and Board Member for the organization. Through Project Green Schools, Mark has attended the White House Event on Climate Change and Public Health, spoken on STEM at the Green Difference awards in the Massachusetts State House, presented at the Massachusetts Green Careers Conference, and completed an international sustainability project installing a solar water heater in an underprivileged orphanage in India. Mark’s other interests include soccer, emerging technology, and music.


Eugen Cotei is an 18-year-old student that was born and raised in a very small village in Romania. With a previous love for the natural world, he and his family immigrated to the United States where Eugen has been able to truly explore and certify that that his efforts will create a difference at the end of the day in his community.