Success stories: Green kids, classrooms, and schools
All over the country, kids, teachers, and school administrators are doing what they can to bring planet-friendly thinking to students and classrooms. Take a peek at these three eco efforts—they prove that thereís more than one way to think green and do good.
By Marygrace Taylor
Kids teaching kids: Student Alexa Boghosian and The Green Teens
As a summer volunteer at the California Science Center museum in Los Angeles in 2009, high school freshman Alexa Boghosianís job was to engage children and other visitors in conversation as they passed through a climate change exhibit. She discovered that most of the kids she talked to lacked some pretty basic knowledge about being green. "I asked them questions like why recycling is good, why littering is bad, and what climate change is, and most of them had no idea," Boghosian says. "Thatís when I realized there was a need in our community to teach kids about the environment."
That school year, with the help of ten classmates and a teacher advisor, Alexa founded The GreenTeens (thegreenteens.org) to provide environmental education to elementary students in Los Angeles schools. Alexa and her team created a four-day, four-hour curriculum that they use to teach students about planet-friendly living; it includes activities like nature photo walks, lessons on indigenous plants, and decorating reusable canvas bags. Kids are also encouraged to participate in the Alliance for Climate Educationís Do One Thing campaign—set doable, daily eco goals to help the environment. Theyíve pledged to take shorter showers, recycle, and unplug energy "monsters" (appliances that use energy even when theyíre off)—and Boghosian believes these changes will stick. "On the first day of the program, one kid told us he thought saving the environment was dumb, but after spending a day with us he came to realize that protecting the planet was important," says Boghosian, now 16. "I think a lot of the kids like the program because itís not so much of a lesson when itís kids teaching kids. Individual attention from teenagers is something younger kids like, and they have a sense of uniting with us."
Greening the classroom: Teacher Sara Bauerís kindergarten class
New Jersey kindergarten enrichment teacher Sara Bauer was no stranger to eco-friendly classroom activities (for instance, her students regularly used recycled materials for crafts). But last spring, her efforts went to a new level. Motivated by the EarthCare Challenge (a contest for earth-friendly communities held by Hickory Springs, a manufacturer of eco-friendly furniture components), she created a month-long curriculum based on reusing, reducing, and recycling that would foster environmental awareness in her students.
The class began taking frequent nature walks and looking for creative ways to repurpose materials. They also learned how to employ simply energy-saving tactics, like when Bauer encouraged them to decide what kind of snack or drink they wanted before opening the refrigerator so it didnít stay open as long. The kindergartenersí favorite activity, though, was the recycling relay race. After Bauer showed students how different recycling items should be separated, she split them into teams to see who could separate their own pile of recyclables the fastest. "I wanted them to learn about recycling, and I knew turning it into a race would make the concept interesting and relatable for them," says Bauer.
After winning first place in the EarthCare Challenge (the school where Bauer works, Saraís Preschool, received $1,000, which will go toward an organic garden and help fund future environmental learning initiatives), Bauerís class continued spreading their green message throughout the school by making eco handbooks for students in other classes.
Planet-friendly school: The Londonderry School
A green school building is great for the environment—but a school that uses their state-of-the-art construction to teach and inspire is also great for kids. The LEED-certified (LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is the U.S. Green Building Councilís green building certification system) Londonderry School in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, houses preschoolers through eighth graders, and they all learn lessons from the building itself, just by doing everyday things.
How? For one, instead of air conditioning, students use a hand crank to open high windows that allow for natural ventilation by letting hot air escape. Students can also see the heating system underfoot, thanks to a see-through floor, as well as the plumbing and electricity systems exposed in the ceilings. "We made the building design very simple, so most aspects of it are easy for everyone to understand how things work and how to utilize energy effectively," says Jane Allis, the Londonderry Schoolís early childhood administrator.
Plus, the school has an eco curriculum designed to match the green qualities of the building itself. "Itís actually divided up into areas used by LEED certification. We teach lessons on indoor air quality, preserving outdoor space, and minimizing fuel usage, but on a level thatís understandable for kids," says Allis. Plus, students in grades six through eight can actually become certified to give tours (for parents and other visitors) that highlight all of the schoolís LEED features.