Green school certification nearly doubles to 35%

Maryland is forging ahead with its own "green" standards for schools. Take a look at this article, and also check out the MAEOE - Maryland Green School Portal - to see how they are doing it.

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Green school certification nearly doubles to 35%

Coordinator: 'This is an effort that needs schoolwide buy-in'

By Lindsey McPherson

Howard County, MD - Going “green” is often looked at as what one individual can do to improve the environment, but 35 Howard County schools have decided to make going “green” a community effort.  

The Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education certified 16 Howard County schools as green schools this year, bringing the county’s total to 35 schools. 

“This is an effort that needs schoolwide buy-in,” Allison Anderson, the county’s green schools coordinator, said. “You can’t just have one motivated teacher or principal.”

The reason it takes the entire school community, she said, is because of the complex application process, which involves providing descriptions and evidence of activities completed over a two-year period.

“Sometimes schools are daunted by the initial application process,” said Anderson, who is employed by the Howard County Conservancy and helps schools achieve their green certifications by providing workshops and reviewing their draft applications.

The major components that need to be illustrated in the application include integrating environmental issues into the curriculum, having teachers participate in related professional development activities, holding environmental celebrations, practicing conservation and forming a school and community partnership to enhance awareness. 

In past years, the applications were always submitted on paper. This year, Howard County piloted the paperless initiative by having some of its schools fill out their applications online. 

“It’s a very elaborate application that had to be submitted,” said Principal Brad Herling of Clarksville Elementary, one of the newly certified schools. “It involved all the things that we were doing across the school — reducing our energy impact, recycling.”  

Clarksville Elementary actually became one of the first certified green schools in the county, along with Waterloo Elementary School, in 1999. However, the certifications expire after four years and both schools chose not to renew theirs at the time. 

Anderson said schools where one teacher is really the only person dedicated to the green schools mission are those that tend not to recertify because they must show they’ve maintained their green efforts for the four years between certifications. 

This year, Clarksville Elementary applied with the support of many teachers, students and parents. 
 
“The attitude isn’t ‘OK, we’re green, we can stop now.’ It’s ‘OK, we’re green, what else can we do?’ ” third-grade teacher Hilary Becker said.
 
From oyster habitats to fashion, schools participate in a variety of activities to become a green school. Some of those activities include creating gardens, planting trees, recycling, using less energy, and having green celebrations.

Northfield Elementary School Principal Rebecca Straw said her staff partnered with the PTA to hold a community green carnival, in which the activities were environmentally themed.

One activity in which several schools participated was “Waste Free Wednesdays,” where students would bring their lunches in recyclable containers to reduce trash. In some cases, the activity became a competition between the grade levels to see who created the least amount of trash.
 
A few schools created oyster reef balls, large concrete structures created as habitats for oysters in the Chesapeake Bay. Several schools also took unique approaches to the subject, including one school that put on a fashion show featuring recycled clothing.
 
Lisbon Elementary Gifted and Talented teacher Jodi O’Conner said her school had an artist in residency for two weeks to show students how to create art from what people perceive to be junk, such as hubcaps.

In addition to the new schools, four of 18 previously certified schools were recertified this year.

West Friendship Elementary School Principal Carol Hahn said her school recertified because it is important for the students to learn how their behaviors impact the world in which they live.

Though 25 of the county’s 35 green schools are elementary schools, Anderson said the certification is beneficial to all students.
 
It’s harder to fit the program into the middle and high school schedules, she said, but “they can get more in-depth, interesting projects that you couldn’t do in an elementary school.”

Many schools cited a change in students’ and teachers’ attitudes since the green schools program was implemented.

“The students are more conscious of their daily habits,” Manor Woods Elementary third-grade teacher Sang Kim said. “Hopefully, this awareness has helped people learn better habits that they can put into practice in their daily lives.”

On June 4, the Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education is holding its Maryland Green Schools Youth Summit at Sandy Point State Park in Annapolis to honor the newly certified and recertified green schools throughout the state. Each new green school will be presented with a green school flag.

The summit, which is open to the public, will also include activities such as environmental education stations, presentations and leadership symposiums.
 
In the fall, the Howard County Conservancy, which received its green center certification in 2008, is hosting a ceremony for the county’s new and recertified green schools.

“We realize this is a big accomplishment and a big achievement,” Anderson said, adding that she expects the enthusiasm for the green schools program to continue. “I’ve already got an e-mail from a school that would like to apply for next year.”

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MAEOE - Maryland Green School Portal