The greening of schools

Being given the duty of saving the planet can become quite the overwhelming task for adults. Yet, in the eyes of children, it’s a feat that can be accomplished. Whether it’s a reminder to throw the soda can in the recycling bucket or use bio-degradable plates, glasses and silverware, it’s often the children who take the lead when it comes to growing green. Schools have seen their determination and are working hard to include the idea of environmental responsibility in all facets of curriculum.

“Our hope and goal is if the children in our care grow up with us with an eco-friendly living, they won’t know any different and take it with them as they become young adults,” explains Sarah Stiltner, Executive Director of the Little Green Tree House in Chicago. “We hope that while the children are here, the parents will understand the importance of being eco-friendly and practice good habits at home. Being a part of an eco-friendly school directly effects the children in a positive way, but they may not necessarily fully grasp the concepts under they are a bit older.”

As an eco-friendly childcare center, Little Green Tree House incorporates a number of environmental concepts into the curriculum that can be considered age appropriate. Examples include “talking about plants and how they help us, how we dispose of garbage and recyclables, turning off the lights, conserving water and teaching them fun songs that will help them remember how important the environment is.”

Stiltner herself saw firsthand some of the struggles that are currently occurring in many educational institutions when it comes to adopting more green practices. “I spent some time as a first grade teacher in a school system that had no idea what it meant to be eco- friendly,” she says. “There were many issues within this school that made me feel uneasy. The food in itself was not something I would personally eat; there was tons of food and garbage waste, and recycling was unheard of and all of the supplies in my classroom were plastic. After coming to Little Green Tree House, I realized how extremely easy it was to start living an eco-friendly life style.”

Often, some of the most monumental “green” changes are the ones behind the scenes. As one of the first schools certified under the Consortium of School Networking Green Computing program, Lake Forest Country Day School has made a number of building wide changes.

“In terms of energy use, we have such things as scripted shutdown of all public desktop& notebook computers, the configuration of printers and LCD projectors go into power save mode or completely shut down after disuse and the automated shutdown of building lights via our automated building management system,” explains Keith Gillette, Director of Information Technology at Lake Forest Country Day. “For waste reduction, we have also established central& distributed charging stations and replaced batteries in digital cameras and remote controls with rechargeable batteries.”

In addition, LFCDS has incorporated students in many of their “green” practices over the year, such as providing them with an organic gardening project in the LFCDS Early Childhood Center, the Earth Keepers curriculum and recycling collection in our Lower School elementary division, and the recent switch to Organic Life, a food service provider with a commitment to organically produced food.

Undoubtedly these changes can end up making a big impact in the efforts to become greener. But educators agree that these green practices must also be practiced at home in order to make them last. Simple changes in your home can include providing kids with wood or organic cotton based toys, organic cotton bedding and a menu of meals made with the very best in organic food.

“We feel it is important for children to go to school in an eco-friendly environment because as an educator I know that children are a product of their environment,” says Stiltner. “If they grow up with an eco-friendly awareness there is a high chance those practices will stay with them which in return benefits much more than just themselves.”

“I have seen some schools moving to green elements, but they are just so overwhelmed with so many other things that sometimes, they just never end up integrating these green practices within their curriculum,” adds Cindy Morgan, Owner and Founder of Shift2Green, an ecommerce business that advises schools on green planning and fundraising. “In my opinion, we have the responsibility to always lead by example. Change is never easy, but all of us can do it….one day at a time.”

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