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Making School Districts More Green: Advice from Experts

By guest blogger Madeline Will

A growing number of schools across the country are seeking to become more energy efficient and environmentally friendly—and districts in Colorado are at the forefront of the movement, according to experts on a press call Wednesday.

The call, hosted by the Colorado chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, featured several experts on the topic of green schools and came in advance of the Green Schools Summit at the University of Denver on Nov. 14, which will focus on designing, building, and maintaining 21st century schools and ultimately greening Colorado's schools within one generation. 

The Douglas County school system, the third-largest in Colorado, was one of 14 districts last year to receive the first-ever district-level Green Ribbon Award from the U.S. Department of Education. This year, one of the district's schools, Larkspur Elementary, received a Green Ribbon award because of its sustainability and environmental education efforts. 

Richard Cosgrove, director of planning, construction, and facilities management for the district, said that some schools' designs include sustainable, energy-saving features like solar panels, lighting controls, and low-flow toilets, among others. 

(This Denver Post article has a good wrap-up of the recent work the district has done to make schools more energy efficient. The projects are expected to save the district hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.)  

Adele Willson, principal at a Denver-based architect firm SLATERPAULL | HCM, said her firm has worked with schools implementing many of those features. She said it's important to schedule training sessions with teachers and staff members so they understand what the energy-efficient features do and why they're important. 

But aside from architectual design features, what can teachers and students do to help "green"  their school? The experts on the call weighed in with some ideas:

  • Students tend to embrace green efforts like recycling, turning lights off when leaving rooms, and unplugging appliances that aren't in use. 
  • Teachers can implement outdoor education in their instruction, such as gardening and garden-to-table lessons.
  • Schools can participate in the Green Apple Day of Service, where communities around the world get involved with sustainability projects. These range from a school yard clean up and tree planting to conducting an energy audit or campus sustainability assessment.
  • Teachers can incorporate sustainability lessons in curriculum—STEM subject areas are an obvious choice, but also in literature or the arts. 
  • Water reuse programs in schools are a good way to lower water bills, but teachers can also use those programs to show students how they can wisely use and reuse water.

Educators, how do you and your students help "green" your school? Feel free to share in the comments. 

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