First Annual National Green Schools Conference:
"Growing Green Schools Across America"
By Deborah Moore, Executive Director, Green Schools Initiative
Leaving the national green schools conference, I felt I'd “arrived.” Not in terms of “coming and going,” but in the sense of belonging to a real and growing movement. I was excited – and a bit overwhelmed – to see the huge number of people, projects, programs, and diversity of green school activities happening all over the country!
About 1,000 participants -- including more than 100 high school students -- from 40 states attended the first national green schools conference, “Growing Green Schools Across America,” in Minneapolis in late October.
Green Topics Galore
More than 100 breakout sessions covered the gamut from green building and operations, to green curricula. I attended sessions on topics as diverse as how “green teaching” improves test scores, to how Minnesota and Wisconsin have formed statewide green schools networks; and from how to “Green My Parents,” to developing a comprehensive sustainability rating system for schools.
Partnering with Office Depot, I gave a session on green purchasing for schools, demonstrating how schools can reduce their environmental footprint and save money through their purchasing choices.
Kids at Green Schools Just Do Better
One of the most compelling presentations came from David Sobel, professor at Antioch University New England. He made a powerful argument that inquiry-based and “place-based” learning – like the hands-on curricula at green schools – improves student achievement and test scores better than other approaches to educational reform.
A 10-year collaboration among education researchers examined student achievement, stewardship behavior, community environmental quality, and change in teacher behavior in schools that taught using experiential environmental education compared to those that did not.
In one study of 70 pairs of schools, the schools with environmental education outperformed those without 78% of the time. The exciting results of the collaborative education evaluation research can be found at Place-Based Education Evaluation Collaborative.
Green Schools Build Healthier Communities
They also found that environmental quality improved in communities around schools that taught through environmental projects. For example air quality improved after students in Union 32 High School in Vermont helped pass an anti-idling legislation based on an air quality study they had done near their school.
Getting to the Same Page
I learned about statewide green school programs flourishing in Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minneapolis, and Wisconsin. Yet confusion abounds because each program defines "green schools" differently, along with the steps needed to achieve green school recognition.
There are several efforts underway to develop a coherent "rating" or "certification" system with guidelines and standards. One involves adapting the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) used in higher education to the K-12 context.
There's also a drive to promote a national “Green Ribbon Schools Program,” building on the existing Blue Ribbon Schools program run by the Department of Education. Green Schools Initiative is also working with groups in California to adapt other states' programs for our state. As a result of the conference, discussions are underway about forming a National Green Schools Network and state-level green schools chapters.
Green Schools Have Arrived!
Finally, I connected with friends and partners new and old, including Natalie McKinney of Kokua Hawai’i Foundation (pictured at far left); EcoSchools USA, BambooMel (reusable melamine foodware made from bamboo); Grace Your School games, and more. I learned more about the National Energy Education Project and recommend that you check out their curricula for student energy projects.
Seeing so many organizations represented, I realized that the “green schools movement” has arrived. It’s time now to organize and share information better so we can further coordinate our efforts and avoid reinventing the wheel. At the same time we must accelerate the pace of greening and amplify our collective voices.
In the coming months, Green Schools Initiative will keep you informed about how you can get involved in these emerging organizations – both to get support and resources, and to share your own experiences. Think ahead towards the next national conference, planned for February 2012 in Denver. Together, we can green all our schools in this generation!