The Willow School—Gladstone, New Jersey
When Matt and Gretchen Biedron had trouble finding a suitable school for their son to attend, they started their own. The Willow School in Gladstone, New Jersey, follows four core principles: academic excellence and the joy of learning, mastery of the English language, living a virtuous life, and a commitment to the environment. The school particularly excels in areas of social responsibility.
"We are all part of a bigger system," says the head of the school, Kate Burke Walsh. The students at The Willow School take this message to heart, forming numerous social outreach committees. Recently, the school’s 6th- and 7th-grade students distributed cloth bags for kids to take home and share with their families in an effort to reduce the waste accumulated by plastic and paper bags. Other initiatives include collecting used printer cartridges and sending home flyers with information on energy-efficient light bulbs. Currently, the school is working to implement green fertilizers for the town’s local golf club.
Students also take responsibility for recycling and composting, which are everyday practices at The Willow School. Burke Walsh explains that her students have learned to ask questions about where trash goes. According to her, "Our students would never [...] litter." Additionally, children have ample opportunity to learn about the natural world by bird watching and studying pond and water quality. The school even harvests rainwater for all non-drinking purposes, helping students learn about the water cycle.
Founded in 2000, the school has received international recognition as a model for program content as well as architecture. The campus has successfully met the standards of the U.S. Green Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), and runs largely on wind and solar power.
Going green may seem like a daunting challenge, and to that, Burke Walsh advises schools to "start small—but absolutely start." Begin by raising student awareness about environmental issues. Teach the importance of recycling, and begin sorting trash. Be sure to utilize parents as a resource, especially since the increasing popularity of eco-consciousness means young families want to implement positive change, says Burke Walsh. The most important thing, however, is to remain committed and remember that the health of the environment is everyone’s responsibility.