Department of Education Recognizes 'Green' Schools

To celebrate Earth Day 2012 (April 22), schools across the country are participating in green projects from cleaning up watersheds to helping preserve local parks. For Sean Miller, a former educator and now Education Director of the Earth Day Network, a partner of NEA, these projects are not just good for the planet, but are necessary to provide students with a broader education.

“Students need to have the knowledge to live in a growing, complex world. Environmental knowledge fits into that knowledge. Environmental knowledge helps students deal with those complex problems and navigate the world,” Miller says.

This year the Earth Day Network is supporting a Department of Education program that will recognize schools that have made significant efforts to “green” their schools and curriculum. The “Green Ribbon Schools” program was first conceived by the Campaign for Environmental Literacy, Earth Day Network, the National Wildlife Federation, and the U.S. Green Building Council before being implemented nationally by the Department of Education.

The program, the first federal green school program in the country, “recognizes schools that save energy, reduce costs, feature environmentally sustainable learning spaces, protect health, foster wellness, and offer environmental education to boost academic achievement and community engagement.”

During the 2011 – 2012 school year, 33 states along with the District of Columbia and the Bureau of Indian Affairs selected schools to participate in the program. States could select up to four schools to be their representatives.

Schools have reasons much more valuable than just government awards to make their learning environments green. Research has shown that environmental protection programs to clean up schools promote teacher retention and a decrease in student absenteeism. The U.S. Department of Energy also estimates that smart energy management in schools, which spent between $6 – 8 billion in the year 2000 on energy, could reduce energy consumption by as much as 25 percent and cut school energy costs across the nation by more than $1 billion annually.

“No other building type speaks more profoundly to the benefits of a green building than the places where our children learn. Green schools reduce energy consumption, save money, and foster healthier learning environments for our children,” said Rick Fedrizzi, president, CEO and founding chair of the U. S. Green Building Council.

The hope is that more schools will focus on green education. Currently 47 states and the District of Columbia have, or are, implementing formal environmental curriculum into their schools. Miller hopes that schools will continue the trend of adopting green curriculum so that all students will learn new ways to preserve the planet.

“I want every school in America to learn about sustainability,” said Miller. “Students can learn about it and truly make a difference by being environmentally conscious.”

The winners of the inaugural Green Ribbon Schools program will be announced on April 23.

Visit NEA’s Read Across America and check out how NEA and the cast from Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax are teaching students how to preserve our air, land, and water.