Most schools are incorporating environmental learning into their curriculums. But when we went in search of how they’re doing it, we found something even more interesting: schools that have taken serious and ambitious steps to being greener institutions. It’s one thing to teach; it’s quite another to show students how it’s done and to get them involved in the process. Who’s ready to build a solar oven?
GrowNYC Environmental Education Solar Oven Program
GrowNYC’s Environmental Education programs reach almost 1,400 kids a year and range in topics, but the solar program is the best of the bunch. It teaches kids about renewable energy and even grants them to chance to make their own solar ovens. Best of all, students then go out into the city to show off their baked goods and spread their knowledge of different energy sources. Participating schools have hosted educational fairs on their own grounds in addition to bringing their creations to GrowNYC fairs around the city, such as the Union Square GrowNYC Energy Fair—the biggest of these events that reaches hundreds of New Yorkers. Director of Environmental Education, Mike Zamm says of his goals, “I want [the students] to get an appreciation for alternative energy and [understand] that solar and wind energy is a possibility for the future.”
The Town School was the first New York City school to install a wind turbine on the roof—one that can generate up to 1 kilowatt per hour. These days, the school is in the process of rigging up a monitoring system that shows real-time data from the turbine and solar panels, so the students can see just how much these energy sources are contributing to the power that they’re using. “To have young people experience wind and solar power generation firsthand is invaluable to the future of renewable energy in this country,” says Gregory Hart, President of wind turbine distributor The Big Wind.
Moms Making A Difference- District 3 Schools Composting Pilot
Five moms banded together from different District 3 schools and created a composting pilot to build environmental awareness while conserving waste. The chairs—Pamela French, Emily Fano, Lisa Maller, Jennifer Prescott, and Laura Sametz—started the program in February 2012 in 69 NYC public schools divided between 37 buildings after the district’s Green Schools Group got compostable sugar cane trays for their cafeterias with nowhere to compost them. “I think it makes the kids more observant of food and recycling,” says Pamela French of the program’s benefits. “They understand what’s garbage, what’s recycling, and what’s compostable.” The pilot has been wildly successful and expanded to 69 schools in Manhattan and Brooklyn in September 2012.
Grow To Learn and Garden To School Café Programs
These two programs not only educate kids but also allow them to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Literally. Grow To Learn—a partnership between GrowNYC, the Mayor’s Fund to Advance NYC, the NYC Department of Education, and NYC Department of Parks—gives city schools the tools, grants, and resources necessary to cultivate their own gardens. Once the schools have grown enough produce, Garden To School Café, part of the NYC Office of SchoolFood, comes in to create organic meals from what the kids grew during harvest events. So far, over 225 schools have created gardens with the help of Grow To Learn, and Garden To School Café has helped cook meals for over 60 schools to enjoy.
The Green School and Growing Up Green Charter School
Built specifically around the themes of sustainability and eco-consciousness, The Green School and Growing Up Green Charter School work hard to ensure that their students are taught to be environmentally conscious members of society. The Green School has an on-site garden, a recycling club, and sustainable art lining the halls. Principal Cara Tait shares some of the projects that demonstrate how “green” is in all that the students do: “Kids are taking a math course, but looking at what it takes to build a green house. They look at the math and science that goes into that. It’s infused into our curriculum.” Likewise, Growing Up Green Charter School in Long Island City incorporates its mission into every aspect of education, from composting in the classrooms to using recycled furniture and supplies. Classes often discuss questions like where food comes from in order to contemplate the relationship between the local environment and our day-to-day lives. What’s more, plants that are grown in the classrooms are used in student cooking projects.