Richardsville Elementary holds the distinct honor of being the first net zero school building in the nation. In addition to being LEED Gold certified and scoring 100 on the Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR portfolio, the school generates renewable energy on-site through solar panels and a geothermal system. Among the school’s features are sinks in the bathrooms that are hands free and run with photovoltaic cells, and a rain water collection system on the roof of the building that pipes water to the rain garden, which has eliminated the need for an irrigation system. Additionally, Richardsville’s cafeteria does not have fryers, a practice that decreases energy consumption while increasing the nutrition of every meal served. The school’s student Energy Team leads schoolwide recycling efforts, in addition to giving energy tips, completing energy audits, leading tours of the building, and holding schoolwide and community events that focus on energy conservation and sustainability. The school participates in Farm to School and the HealthierUS Schools Challenge programs. Teachers participate in professional development workshops through National Energy Education Development. The school’s Dr. Seuss Family Fun Night includes nutrition- and energy-related activities. Students also learn about energy conservation and sustainability through an energy conservation curriculum plan developed around National Energy Education Development materials. Environmental responsibility is integrated throughout the school in learning murals and themed hallways, focusing on solar, geothermal, recycling, and water conservation.
Stream restoration and wetland construction has served as Dunloggin’s 7th-grade student service-learning project since 2005. Through the continued maintenance of a wetland area near the streams, students help to create a natural habitat for wildlife, as well as provide a buffer to absorb excessive nutrient runoff from local fields before it enters the stream and eventually reaches the Chesapeake Bay. The project is intensive and ongoing, engaging students in environmentally friendly activities throughout the school year. Students also have created and regularly maintain nature trails through the area, perform water-quality testing on the streams and wetland area to determine the health of the water, and take population samplings of various organisms. Students are required to write an argumentative piece either supporting or refuting the possibility of using alternative/renewable sources of energy in the future after they learn about and generate electricity to operate models. Students compare and contrast the power and efficiency that can be realized from wind-, solar-, and water-powered machines, as opposed to non-renewable sources. The school replaced its old boiler system with a more energy-efficient model. Its soap dispensers, toilet paper, and paper towels all are green standard certified, chlorine free, and made with 100 percent wind-generated electricity.
Francis Scott Key Middle School, Silver Spring, MD
Learning critical thinking, STEM and writing weighing the evidence of global change
Francis Scott Key is a LEED Gold facility, featuring geothermal heating and cooling and solar panels. Its roof provides information to students and staff on the energy produced at the school for monitoring and data manipulation. In their exploration of solar energy, students have the opportunity to build a solar collector, gather data, and consider why solar energy often is promoted as an alternative to fossil fuels. Student service learning projects are performed at each grade in middle school. At grade six, those projects are environmental, and many students also choose environmentally focused action as their grade eight service project. The 300-student eighth-grade class participated in a local greenscaping project. In both grades six and eight, students consider the evidence of global change over time through research and data analysis. Students learn about bias and think critically about sources as they explore information related to global warming. All grade six students are involved in a multi-day residential environmental program focused on the ecology of the local watershed. Students learn to use scientific equipment and technology to collect data about the watershed. They complete a stream water survey and forest buffer assessment, and then analyze data and make conclusions about the health of the local watershed. Students discuss the decisions they make every day that affect the local watershed.
Folger McKinsey Elementary School, Severna Park, MD
Learning by raising terrapins, eels and bay grasses
Folger McKinsey holds a Tasting of the Rainbow event each month, providing students with the opportunity to try new fresh fruits and vegetables. Its outdoor courtyard features a butterfly garden, raised flower beds, a science lab, reading area, stage, "explora-torium" to dig and witness nature, and a water-feature emulating the sea-level fen uniquely characteristic of this region. The accompanying curriculum plan encompasses science, language arts, music, art, and math. Through annual environmental field trips and use of the schoolyard at all grade levels, along with a strong partnerships with a local outdoor education center, Folger students engage in active lessons, allowing them to make practical applications to the environment. In addition to each grade level focusing on a specific issue, projects such as growing bay grasses and raising terrapins and eels make environmental literacy tangible and real at Folger. Fifth grade students have scored between 92 and 95 percent proficient or advanced on state science assessments in recent years. The school partners with Northrup Grumman and the Naval Academy for its STEM initiatives, including the school-wide annual environmental science fair.