Beyond Earth Day: Green Projects in Schools Look For Lasting Impact

It’s Earth Day, and around the country schools and communities are doing their part to make our planet a cleaner, healthier place. But for many educators, Earth Day is every day.

Like Mike Beebe in North Carolina. Beebe is the algebra teacher at Northwest Halifax High School in Littleton, North Carolina. It’s a rural school that’s faced a lot of hardships, from huge budget constraints to an ongoing struggle to make AYP, but despite that, Beebe is helping the school save money and helping students learn about solar energy and the green economy.

Grade 5 Class Project, Rhode Island

Beebe is the Northwest Halifax track coach – one of the top track teams in the state. With fundraisers at the crowded meets, he was able to raise enough money to install solar panels on his school’s roof, which powers the school for most of the day.

“Those are the kinds of green projects we need to grow nationwide,” says Sean Miller, director of education for the Earth Day Network. “Earth Day should be celebrated and practiced every day in our schools because we need to prepare our students for a world that will be defined by the green economy.”

Educators are catching on. Half of the states in the country have passed or are considering environmental literacy plans that would either embed environmental education into current curriculum or develop new courses of study.

“It’s heartening to see the progress that green education is making,” Miller says.

Every day the Earth Day Network is inundated with calls from teachers who want the organization to make presentations at their schools, or to help guide their green projects. And the demand for green lesson plans and grants has gone through the (solar paneled) roof.

The schools themselves are getting greener, too.

Green Club, Grade 3, Connecticut

“In the last five years, the greening of our country’s schools has immensely increased,” Miller says. “Schools aren’t just more physically green, they’re more economically sound. A certified green school building saves $100,000 a year – that’s two full time teachers. Talk about an ROI for our economy.”

The green school buildings can also offer teachable moments by showing students how solar tubes, geothermal fields, or rainwater cisterns work.

“The building becomes a source of inspiration and education,” he says.

The key to environmental education that has a lasting impact, Miller says, is helping students see the interconnectedness of our economy and our environment, and recognizing how one can’t flourish without the other.

“That’s the definition of sustainability,” he says. “It’s the proper balance between the economy and the environment.”

Here’s a roundup of what some schools are doing to celebrate this year’s Earth Day:

  • Cypress Ridge High School’s Chemistry teacher Melissa Smith will be leading her students in a bayou clean-up from April 18-21 to help protect their “Bayou City” in Houston, Texas.
  • In Florida, Killearn Lakes Elementary School teacher Sherise Curtis will be getting her school’s garden up and running on Earth Day. She will organize her fifth grade classes to help dig up the dirt in the garden’s area so that students from each grade can plant a vegetable seed.
  • Students from Barbara Murphy’s Environmental Education Class at Westlawn Middle School in Huntsville, Alabama, are collecting plastic bottle caps for this year’s Earth Day. They have collected about 10,000 caps so far as part of their city’s efforts to cut down on plastic waste. They’re also working with the Huntsville fire department. All 17 departments will collect caps in bins outside their stations. The caps will be melted down and made into plastic buckets to be used and sold by hardware stores.
  • In response to recycling funds that were slated to be eliminated from the Wisconsin state budget, Cyndee Kennedy from Roosevelt Middle School of the Arts had her students take action. She had them collaborate to develop posters encouraging the reduction of solid waste and the reuse of commonly disposed items. Each student wrote Milwaukee’s mayor to discuss this group project and asked their mayor to be more proactive about recycling in their city. They have also invited the mayor to visit their classroom to educate students about how the city would function without a recycling center. They are still awaiting an answer!

Photos: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency