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Green Ribbon Schools Save Money, Teach Environmental Lessons in Rural Alabama

Fayetteville High in Sylacauga, Ala., sits on 17 rural acres that have helped it to save money, win national recognition, and give students hands-on environmental lessons.

The school was among 58 nationwide to earn a national Green Ribbon Award this year. The relatively new federal program honors schools and districts for their work in ensuring sustainable, healthy school environments and effective environmental education.

Fayetteville High was one of three schools to receive a visit last week from federal officials. It was part of the first leg of the U.S. Department of Education's Built to Last Facilities Best Practices tour, which will eventually make its way to New England, the Great Lakes region, and the West Coast.

The tour stopped at two other rural Talladega County schools , both current or former Green Ribbon Award winners: Winterboro High and Munford Middle and High. Educators estimate their efforts have helped save the school system $4 million during the past few years.

"I think one reason why Alabama is a great place to start and why I'm really excited to be here is because people tend to think of the practice of Green Schools as just being about (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification," said Andrea Suarez Falken, director of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools, in The Daily Home's coverage of the visit. "They think of places like Oregon or Connecticut, but they don't see Alabama as a natural fit. But (Alabama) is such a wonderful, cultural fit."

Each school appears to have a host of interesting and innovative projects that rural schools nationwide could emulate.

Fayetteville High is a K-12 school with 665 students, half of whom are considered low-income. The former 1920s building was rebuilt in 2006, and the school system says that has helped it reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save money.

The school's campus includes a certified wetland area, a butterfly garden, a vegetable garden, and a grove with more than 560 trees and shrubs native to Alabama. The school is raising money to build an outdoor classroom and teaching trail, and it uses drought-resistant plant species and efficient watering techniques on athletic fields to reduce irrigation costs.

Winterboro High in Alpine, Ala., has about 320 students in grades 5-12, and officials estimate its energy savings have been more than $360,000 during the past three years, in part due to new building insulation.

Munford Middle and Munford High share the same campus in Munford, Ala. Students' projects include creating a blue bird trail, protecting wetlands, and recycling 400 pounds of paper. They've also electro-shocked a pond on campus and are working with professors to raise tilapia in 1,000-gallon tanks.

John White, the department's deputy assistant secretary for rural outreach, was among those who toured the schools.

"The local communities here are built around the schools and they can really support the school in a number of ways," he said in another Daily Home story about the visit. "They've become very creative about the ways that the partners can support the schools. You can tell in the students that it's had a great impact on them."

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