On June 3, the U.S. Department of Education honored the 64 recipients of the 2013 Green Ribbon School award. These schools were cited for successfully reducing their environmental impact and costs, creating effective environmental and sustainability education efforts, and improving health and wellness programs for their students. 14 school districts were also honored with the first-ever District Sustainability Award to recognize successful district-wide environmental awareness initiatives.
“Together, healthy, safe and modern facilities combined with wellness practices like outdoors physical activity, nutritious food and hands-on environmental learning form a strong foundation for a quality education,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan at the awards ceremony, which included representatives from the White House and the Department of Agriculture. “These schools and districts exhibit best practices to reduce costs and increase achievement, health and equity, for all schools, not just aspiring green schools.”
The winning schools were chosen from a pool of candidates that were voluntarily nominated by 32 state education agencies. For the second year in a row, more than half of the honorees were schools with more than 40 percent of student population receiving free or reduced lunches. By creating healthy learning environments and implementing successful conservation efforts, the Green Ribbon Schools have been able to save millions of dollars annually while providing students with nutrition and wellness programs to remain academically and physically fit.
Many of the winning schools were recognized for successfully conserving energy through “turn off the light” initiatives when classrooms were not in use, harnessing natural energy by using solar panels, and health and fitness programs that focused on a balanced diet and regular exercise. And, almost all the honorees had taken steps to improve school conditions as a way of ensuring that students had ready access to healthy classrooms and hallways.
“We know that a poor indoor environment can trigger asthma attacks in students – and asthma causes more school absences than any other chronic disease,” National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel said in his remarks at a reception following the ceremony. “We also know that factors such as temperature extremes or poor lighting can affect student performance and health. So we know for a fact the schools that won this award are doing the right thing for their students by providing them with a healthy place to learn.”
Educators who are interested in implementing sustainability programs in their own schools are encouraged to visit the U.S. Department of Education’s Green Strides website to learn about ways they can help create healthy and environmentally-friendly schools.
Schools that are interested in increasing their sustainability efforts can participate in The Green Apple Day of Service, which will take place on September 28, 2013. Created by The Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council, the Day of Service gives parents, teachers, students, local organizations, and the community as a whole the chance to come together and help transform schools into healthy learning environments through community service programs. Check out some of last year’s highlights and project ideas, and encourage others to register their own 2013 project.