U. S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools, 2012

Thomas J. Waters Elementary, Chicago, IL

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Thomas J. Waters Elementary, Chicago, IL

The first LEED in Illinois

This 1911 schoolhouse was reconstructed to meet LEED Silver standards and to become the first LEED certified school in Illinois. Waters has set up a salad bar and removed all vending machine beverages with sugar or high fructose syrup. The school was so adept at lunchroom composting that Chicago Public Schools contracted Waters to teach other schools this practice. All students participate in cultivating food in the vegetable garden, and are responsible for aspects of waste management. The Waters Ecology Program is integrated into every subject, including language arts, drama, music, and art so that each grade has an environmental focus. Teachers form the science committee, working to unify the science curriculum across disciplines and coordinate thematic units with field trips and activities. They go on lengthy walks, dig potatoes, gather seeds and leaves, go fishing in Lake Michigan, and participate in organized runs. Students use data from solar panels, calculate run-off with asphalt versus the school’s water-permeable surfaces, study river biomes in three seasons, and measure air, water, and ground temperature. Students testify before the Chicago City Council to make the scientific case for higher water quality standards for the Chicago River. Every class takes three or more outdoor ecology-related trips annually. The music teacher works with students after field trips to create songs reflecting collective experiences, and art classes practice skillful observation of the natural world. The eighth-grade gift to the school revolves around ecology. The school partners with Nature Conservancy, Sierra Club, and Friends of the Parks.

Prairie Crossing Charter School, Grayslake, IL

Training other schools and future teachers in sustainable practices

At Prairie Crossing, students in the 3rd and 4th grades participate in a Lewis and Clark unit that culminates in a visit to a local homestead in the middle of winter, where students make a shelter, start a fire, and cook their own food, as the explorers might have done.  The school requires that students place samples of their work in their environmental portfolio at each grade level to monitor progress and knowledge. The school’s environmental literacy scope and sequence is overseen by an environmental education specialist and culminates with a final environmental project. Other staff participate in professional development on topics such as planning an integrated environmental unit, classroom gardens and nature journaling. Of five buildings on campus, one classroom building is LEED Gold certified and two other buildings meet the requirements for LEED certification. The school generates nearly one quarter of its energy on site through geothermal, wind, and solar panels. Four 1000-gallon cisterns for collecting rainwater and a bevy of rain barrels handle irrigation for all of the campus landscaping. Through the school ambassadors program, students teach their parents about the green features of their schools and how those features might work in other places. Students have traveled to schools in Chicago, Waukegan, and Gumee, among others, to teach younger students about the benefits of environmental behaviors and ecological concepts. A partnership with a nearby farm allows students to work and learn experientially about farming practices and health issues. The school also sponsors environmental service-learning projects that encourage stewardship behaviors, such as working with adult community volunteers to restore a prairie across the street from the school.


Des Moines Central Campus High School, Des Moines, IA

A retrofitted 1918 Ford car factory where students prepare for careers of the future

Des Moines Central Campus serves students from 29 districts and 57 schools, and was originally a 1918 a Ford car factory that has been converted in recent years to a high-efficiency, regional, K-12 school. The renovations have included the installation of double-pane glazed windows in order to increase the availability of natural light and reduce the need for artificial lighting. High-efficiency water source heat pumps also were installed in the school, and reduce the need for steam heating. Des Moines Central Campus has reduced its energy consumption by 28 percent compared to a 2008 baseline, and has reduced its water consumption by 64 percent compared to a 2009 baseline. In this urban setting, students use sustainability concepts to learn green job skills. Home building students use recycled materials to turn old bleachers into hardwood flooring. The aviation program works with the Iowa congressional district to salvage old jets and helicopters as teaching tools. A welding program recycled over 43,000 pounds of scrap metal in 2011. The teacher academy is working toward paperless operations with electronic portfolios. The culinary arts program installed a grow cart to cultivate herbs and salad greens, and their new ENERGY STAR dishwasher reduces energy consumption. Animal science students use recycled materials to create wildlife habitat sculptures. Design students study sustainability principles and devise constructions that incorporate LEED criteria. Horticulture students offer their landscaping services throughout the campus. Technology students’ use of cloud computing reduces energy consumption by over a third. Central Campus’ Iowa Energy and Sustainability Academy is a two-year program that teaches sustainability, green technologies, renewable energy, and conservation. The school nurtures partnerships with University of Northern Iowa, Siemens, Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the Iowa Energy Department.


Eisenhower High School, Goddard, KS

A certified Wildlife Habitat and Monarch way station

At Eisenhower, consultants from local community, county, and state enhance environmental curricula. These experts, in fields ranging from raptor rehabilitation to hazardous waste to energy conservation to land management to conservation, engage students with their real-life career choices, which apply environmental information and sustainability concepts. The use of environmentally relevant iPod downloads, interactive websites, research facility webcams/webinars, and virtual web labs in the ecology class have provided an opportunity for students to experience environmental science on a global scale. Ecology classes complete water, energy, and waste and recycling audits and manage a recycling program. Special education uses recycling activities as an alternative state assessment. English classes study Henry David Thoreau and Aldo Leopold, and debate teams use environmental issues for their competitions. Math classes use recycled materials to create geometric mobiles. Students participate in wellness sessions focusing on diet and nutrition every third week. The school is home to a certified Wildlife Habitat and Monarch way station.

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