The Green Schools Movement Comes of Age!Highlights and Inspiration from the 2nd Annual Green Schools National Conference in Denver, February 27-29, 2012.
By Deborah Moore
Green Schools Are a Win-Win
“The skeptics … warned that green schools would have to come at the expense of reading and math, of repairing broken-down schools, and offering arts and sports. I want to state unequivocally that the green schools movement is not a zero-sum game. It's really a win-win game. .... green schools and environmental literacy in fact complement the goals of providing a well-rounded education for the 21st century, of modernizing schools at reduced costs, and of accelerating learning.” –Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, February 28, 2012
The green schools movement has arrived and has been recognized by the top education policymaker in the country! Secretary Duncan said the above words in his keynote speech at the 2nd annual Green Schools National Conference, which took place in Denver, Colorado, from February 27-29, 2012. (Click here to read the full text of his speech.) Duncan's speech, and the workshops, Solution Summits, trade show, and networking opportunities, advanced our movement even further. Here are some highlights from the conference:
Meet-Ups With Green Schools Movers & Shakers
I had a lot of fun meeting many colleagues in-person who I have only known “virtually.” Meeting people like Robin Organ (see photo), who called asking for advice 5 years ago as she wanted to start a green schools organization in Massachusetts. Project Green Schools is now active in numerous schools and Robin won an award from the US EPA last year!
I also got to meet Kim Armstrong of Washington Green Schools, with whom I have shared numerous tips and strategies, and learned from their state’s recognition program. And I compared notes with Gina LaMotte of Eco-Rise Youth Innovations from Austin, TX about how we engage students in doing hands-on audits of school environmental footprints that lead to student conservation actions on campus.
Sharing Resources for Greening YOUR School
We also had a meet-up of California people working to green schools, including Solar Schoolhouse, Global Green, California Academy of Sciences, Head Royce School, Environmental Charter School, and others, to coordinate efforts and discuss how we can better share our existing resources and reach more schools. This kind of networking will help Green Schools Initiative continue to share with you the best information about school greening. See our Resources page for links to many fantastic groups and resources.
Burgeoning State Environmental Literacy Plans (ELPs)
At a workshop focused on ELPs, I learned that 46 states have adopted or are working on crafting a state ELP. Colorado and Kentucky shared their processes to successfully engage a broad cross-section of stakeholders in developing their state plans, resulting in formal adoption by their state board of education.
Some states are taking a legislative route to jump start the process, others do not need new legislation and can develop a plan under existing state authorities. In these states, environmental and outdoor educators, non-profits and government agencies, farmers, hunters and fishers, teachers, students, and administrators all contributed to preparing a plan to ensure that students graduate with proficiency in environmental understanding, as well as plans for how to fund and implement the desired education initiatives.
These strategic plans are providing an important means of aligning the numerous environmental education interests in the states and ensuring that environmental education resources are coordinated and targeted effectively to reach clear goals. We hope California will soon embark on a similar process to build on our Education and the Environment Initiative (EEI)!
You can explore other states’ ELPs on this site: http://eelinked.naaee.net/n/elp. You can also find a report about “Developing a Framework for Assessing Environmental Literacy” here: www.naaee.net/framework. And send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, if you have information about ELPs in your state. Stay tuned for a more in-depth article about ELPs in our monthly e-news.
Green Ribbon Schools Update
The first Green Ribbon Schools Award winners from the US Dept of Education will be announced on April 23, 2012, during Earth Week. The overarching goals of the Green Ribbon Schools Award are to recognize schools that:
- Strive for “net zero environmental impact;”
- Improve student health and provide healthy learning environments; and
- Graduate environmentally literate students.
There were many lessons shared about state experiences with the Green Ribbon Awards during this pilot year, and many questions about what happens next. One positive outcome of this pilot program is that, for the first time, there is a meaningful, common definition of green schools that is accepted by federal and state agencies.
Having a more consistent definition will lead to better evaluation of the impact of green schools on student learning. The USDOE will engage in evaluating this pilot program starting in May 2012, and individual states are considering whether and how they may continue the program at the state level.
Please share your experiences, evaluation, comments and suggestions with Green Ribbon Schools by emailing: email@example.com.
Measuring Green Schools’ Impacts on Student Achievement
To succeed in persuading school decision-makers to integrate environmental and outdoor education into curricula requires strong evidence and data that these curricula work.
As Secretary Duncan noted at the conference: “Thanks to many of your efforts, we now have data that suggest high-quality environmental education increases academic achievement, whether it is used as a theme across the curriculum or integrated into core subjects. And that research suggests that environmental studies boost achievement not only in science, but also in reading, math, and social studies. It’s results like that which led us to include subjects like environmental literacy in the funding reserved for a well-rounded education in our Blueprint for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Students who receive a well-rounded education are more likely to graduate ready to innovate and collaborate in working toward a sustainable, clean energy economy. They are more likely to grow into caring, responsible citizens, ready to participate in the civic life of their communities, ready to be good stewards of the world."
The conference also dedicated one of its 5 “Solutions Summits” to this topic and leading researchers and educators brainstormed for several hours on how we can all better measure the impacts of green schools on student achievement. Ideas were shared for how we can more easily share assessment tools and assessment results to create a more coherent national data set. Some existing research results can be found here: http://www.servicelearning.org/instant_info/fact_sheets/k-12_facts/impacts, and here: http://www.peecworks.org/PEEC/Benefits_of_PBE-PEEC_2008_web.pdf
Challenges We Face…Together We Do More!
We have come a long way! Did you know that in 2001, fewer than 19,000 students nationwide took the AP Environmental Science exam? In 2011, that number skyrocketed to almost 100,000 students!
As Arne Duncan said, “Through the Green Ribbon program, we intend to shine a spotlight on the work of a hundred or so exemplary [green] schools. But our real aim, and I think the aim of the field, must be much more ambitious. We don't seek pockets of excellence. We want success to be the norm. We want to encourage all schools to provide a sustainable education.”
So how will we go beyond pockets of “green” and ensure that ALL SCHOOLS are healthy, safe, sustainable, enriching centers of learning that engage and inspire students? Only if we work together, reach out to more people and schools, expand our movement, and better coordinate and share our efforts and strategies. I look forward to meeting more of you at next year’s national conference, wherever it may be!