Schools Gone Green
Get inspired by these four Portland-area schools that are doing more than their part to save the planet.
“What makes me most excited about Oregon Green Schools is hearing from the students about their progress. I appreciate that we are preparing kids for the rest of their lives. Resource conservation is not just a choice. It’s something our kids are going to have to do.”
– Laurel Bates, board chair of the Oregon Green Schools Association.
Taking stock of light usage at Trillium Creek Primary School.
Most Oregonians can rattle off the three R’s: reduce, reuse, recycle.
But can you name the three W’s?
It’s waste, watts and water, and reducing all three is the goal of the Oregon Green Schools Association, a nonprofit that has been working for almost 20 years to help schools across the state reduce their environmental footprint. From its roots with just a handful of Portland-area schools, it’s grown to about 250 schools around Oregon. Want to get your school on board? It helps to have student, staff and parent volunteers who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty.
A cozy nest for reading, at Trillium Creek Primary School in West Linn.
“Every single program is different and adapted to the needs of the school,” says Laurel Bates, board chair of the OGSA. There’s no cost for schools to participate, and Bates says schools often end up saving money while building a stronger, more united community.
Start by conducting a waste audit. Yes, that’s what you think it is: Digging through the garbage and taking inventory of what’s thrown away. Picture half-eaten sandwiches, stinky milk cartons, broken pencils, glue sticks and lots of plastic food packaging. It’s good, messy fun for kids, while volunteer parents and teachers learn a lot. Everyone can set shared goals around waste reduction, recycling and composting once they’ve gotten up close and personal with the trash.
“When I help with waste audits I encourage kids to look at their own home,” explains Bates, who adds that a secondary goal of the program is getting students to bring the green zeal home.
From compost to chickens
Working on “the bird garden” at Sunnyside K-8.
Schlepping compost isn’t usually anyone’s first choice for chores. But at West Hills Montessori, an Oregon Green School, you’ll find even the youngest students happily lugging around large compost buckets.
Sometimes the school’s food waste goes home with one of the teachers, to feed her chickens. They call it “West Hills treats.”
West Hills Montessori embarked on its OGS Green Level certification just last school year. The private school, with three campuses, focused its green efforts at the Vermont Hills site, where students range from 3 to 9 years old.
Driven by the efforts of Victoria Poth, a primary teaching assistant, West Hills hit the ground running, in hopes that students would learn “how to be ambassadors of our environment.”
Students at Southridge High School are proud of their water bottle refilling station.
“Children are fascinated by water,” said Poth, so they’ve emphasized the importance of saving enough clean water for plants and animals.
They launched a “water savers” campaign, posted signs and taught students how to wash their hands without wasting water. They installed low-cost faucet aerators, reducing their average water usage by 500 gallons a month.
The school also developed a “how to pack a waste-free lunch” flier, which was shared with parents. In addition, the school hosted a fundraiser for durable lunch containers. The results? A 60 percent reduction in lunch waste.
“The children were going home and telling their parents,” Poth said. “They were seeing how much was going to waste.”
School Director Anne Blickenstaff agreed: “the enthusiasm from the children has just been wonderful.”
A job for every grade
If you asked the folks at Disney to build a green school, it might look like Trillium Creek Primary School.
Working on a waste audit at West Hills Montessori School.
Trillium sits on a 15-acre site with big trees and paths for students to run on. It harvests rainwater that is filtered and used for toilet flushing. It’s got a wind turbine, solar power and rooftop gardens. The library is lit with natural light. Branchlike wooden pillars form a tree house that supports a cozy, pillow-filled nest for quiet reading, while an adjacent slide offers an express route down to the first floor. Nearby LED light poles provide real-time data on the school’s natural-resource usage.
Opened in the 2012-2013 year, Trillium is a neighborhood school in the West Linn-Wilsonville School District with 550 K-5 students. It’s won numerous awards for architectural design and sustainability. According to principal Charlotte Morris, being an Oregon Green School draws families to the neighborhood. Trillium became Green Level the first year, and is now working toward Merit.
At Trillium, each grade does its own waste sorting in grade-level “neighborhoods,” while kids on the leadership team perform skits at assemblies to show the rest of the school what they’ve been up to.Fourth graders are responsible for composting. They take the job seriously, weighing the amount of compost collected daily, preventing food waste andensuring the compost isn’t contaminated. Fifth graders are in charge of recycling, making sure the many recyclables collected are put in the right bins.
“We really try to build a culture to help the kids know where things go,” explains Dina Soriano, counselor and sustainability coordinator.
“One of the biggest things is to help kids to be thoughtful about this for life,” adds Morris, who credits the district for its support of sustainability efforts, and parent volunteers for keeping it all working.
“Recycling is great, but reducing your carbon footprint is (also) important.” says Soriano. “My challenge is student ownership of that.”
The ripple effects of going green
From a green perspective, Sunnyside Environmental School seems to have it all: solar panels, rainwater harvesting, worm bins, vast onsite gardens, and even an “Iron Chef” inspired cooking competition where students prepare meals from quirky combinations of food they’ve grown. And it wouldn’t be Portland without a few chickens: The coop is right by the school’s front door.
Except, they also have a really old school, built in 1926, that’s not exactly energy efficient. So the focus-option, neighborhood K-8 school focuses instead on green practices, which its principal credits with drawing more families to the surrounding neighborhood.
Chickens live in stately splendor at Sunnyside Environmental School in Portland.
“Service learning is a huge part of our curriculum,” says principal Amy Kleiner. Each grade has its own garden plot. Fifth graders study colonial history, so their garden is edged with a white picket fence, and they grow medicinal herbs, such as wormwood and echinacea.
Sunnyside’s PTA funds part-time sustainability coordinators, who, Kleiner adds, help take the load off the school’s teachers.
Its sustainability efforts don’t go unnoticed. In 2012, Sunnyside was recognized as a Green Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education. In 2014, singer Jason Mraz helped create a bird-friendly habitat and garden while touring Portland.
And now that Sunnyside has thoroughly integrated sustainability into its school culture, its principal is thinking beyond her school’s hallways. “What I would like is more environmental-education access for all kids,” Kleiner says.
Turning out the lights
Southridge High School makes it look easy to be green.
Its campus is an energy-efficient dream, built in 1999 and bustling with 1,700 students. It was the first school in the Beaverton School District to achieve Oregon Green School: Premier Level certification.
A gentle reminder to turn down the lights, at Southridge High School.
At Southridge, student government keeps it green with the support of Erik Reinholt, activities director and leadership teacher.
“We are very focused on being a green school,” says senior Nicholas Piwonka. “It’s definitely part of the culture now. It’s ingrained in what we do here. It’s on all levels. Everyone is working together to try and stay a green school.”
Meleah McGlinchy, also a senior and student government president, agrees: “If you throw a piece of paper in the garbage, people cringe!”
Students have decreased electricity usage by hosting weekly “Dim Days,” where teachers and students are asked to keep the lights low. These days, they usually find that lights are already half off. So the student government is brainstorming creative ways to revamp and increase the Dim Day challenge.
Got water? “There is always a kid with a water bottle filling up,” says Reinholt, who explains that the leadership team sold durable water bottles as a fundraiser several years ago, which funded the purchase of a water bottle filling station.
The student leaders also find a way to leverage the ubiquitous phones and embrace online culture for environmental good, and have pretty much become paperless as a result.
“We can take advantage of technology better, like taking a picture,” explains McGlinchy. “Paper isn’t the only choice.”
Oregon Green Schools application here.
Renee Limon is a freelance writer, best known locally for the locally grown blogs EnviroMom.com and ReadySetMom.com. She lives in Southwest Portland with her husband, two tweenage daughters and two rats.
The Power of One
by Michael J. Caduto
You must be the change you wish to see in the world.
— Mahatma Gandhi
bout five years ago I started to plan for a new book for children, parents and teachers about global climate change. I soon found that there was no shortage of materials that addressed how humankind is generating greenhouse gases, and explained the myriad ways in which this pollution is changing the weather and impacting people’s lives and environmental health worldwide.
Climate Change on a Kid’s Scale
When I began presenting a related program called Kids’ Power, I encountered a deep-seated concern among many young people who were struggling with this overarching environmental issue. Children’s natural instincts lead them to want to do something about the issues that affect people and the natural world, especially plants and animals, but climate change doesn’t lend itself to clear cut projects like Pennies for Peace or setting up a school-wide recycling program. Some students were vexed by the complexity of climate change; some felt that the issue was so grand they couldn’t take meaningful personal action to help solve the problem; still others saw it as a challenge to meet head-on. One thing was clear: In order for children to know what can be done to solve the problem of climate change, they must have a solid understanding of how our actions affect the environment, as well as what kinds of natural and physical forces can be used to solve the related problems.
The book that was finally published, Catch the Wind, Harness the Sun, explores climate change and includes activities for helping to solve the problem. It then takes a critical step beyond—helping youth to understand the principles behind the forces of nature so that they can harness the power of the sun and wind to generate renewable energy for use in everyday life. To those ends, it covers essential concepts in physics, such as the electromagnetic energy engaged in wind turbines and when pedaling a bicycle generator.
The Power of One
I also discovered a phenomenon that I call The Power of One: every single positive action taken by each individual adds up to create a huge impact. For example: whenever fortyfive kids convince their parents to replace just one incandescent lightbulb at home with an energy-efficient compact fluorescent light (CFL) or light-emitting diode (LED) bulb, they save more than enough energy to supply all of the lighting for one entire household. If every home in the United States replaced just one incandescent lightbulb with an energy-efficient bulb, it would have the same effect as taking 800,000 cars off the road— reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 9 billion pounds each year. And if each and every household in the United States simply started drying clothes online, instead of using a clothes dryer, we would immediately cut down on the use of enough electricity to shut down thirty average-sized coal-fired power plants. Every action we take to cut down on energy use and generate renewable energy combines with the actions of others to produce a positive synergistic effect.
Still, something else was needed in the book; inspirational stories about young people who have responded to current environmental challenges with projects and programs that are creating a brighter future. These young people come from throughout North America and from such far-flung countries as the United Arab Emirates. Their projects range from the “Cool Coventry Club” (Connecticut) that encourages commitments to reduce energy consumption, generate renewable energy and cut back on greenhouse gases; to anti engine-idling campaigns in Utah and Manitoba; and to generating local hydroelectric power for rural villages in the mountains of Indonesia.
The common element among all of these successful projects is that the children use local resources, harnessed by virtue of their own ingenuity, to make a real contribution toward fighting climate change and other environmental problems. They demonstrate how the solutions are all around us—blowing in the wind, shining down upon us from our home star and flowing through remote mountain streams. These “Green Giants” show that it is possible to (literally) set and run our clocks by using the forces of nature; to create a new world of renewable energy in which fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) will become obsolete.
We adults have left today’s children with a legacy of environmental problems on a global scale. The least we can do is provide them with the knowledge and skills they need, as well as a sense of their own personal power, so that they can understand how to live in balance with the environment today in order to create a sustainable future. Saving our home planet us an exciting, empowering and fun way to connect with other youth in a common cause. Following is an example of how twelve-year-old Adeline Tiffanie Suwana started an environmental movement in Indonesia that has become a powerful force for improving the lives of many people and caring for the natural world.
Friend of Nature
Adeline Tiffanie Suwana
Kelapa Gading Permai, Indonesia
Excerpted from: Catch the Wind, Harness the Sun: 22 Super-Charged Science Projects for Kids. ©2011 by Michael J. Caduto. Used with permission from Storey Publishing.
Adeline was eleven years old and had just graduated from Primary Six in Indonesia when she first got involved with protecting the environment. “I think the most important environmental issue that we face in Indonesia and the world today is Climate Change, which has already disrupted our environment and communities,” she says, “Disasters such as floods, drought, and sinking islands could become more frequent and more severe. Those concerns encouraged me to start asking children to understand, commit and act to save our Earth.”
Many of Indonesia’s low-lying coastal farms would flood if sea levels continue to rise due to global warming. Two thousand of the nation’s smaller islands could be underwater by 2030. Rising temperatures may shorten the rainy season and make storms more severe. These changes would affect Indonesia’s rice yield—the staple food for more than 230 million people.
“Nature is declining in quality at an alarming rate,” Adeline says, “starting from where we live and stretching to the sea—the river, the forest and the air that we breathe. The effects can be felt in the form of floods, air pollution and beach erosion due to climate change and global warming.”
But Adeline is hopeful. Speaking with wisdom beyond her years, she says that, starting at an early age, children need to be encouraged to grow a sense of love and caring toward nature and the environment.
Planting Trees in a Fragile Land
How does an eleven-year-old start to save the world? In July 2008, after graduating from primary school, Adeline spent her holiday teaching friends about the importance of mangrove trees. Soon they were planting mangroves at Taman Wisata Alam Angke Kapuk, the Jakarta Mangrove Rehabilitation Center.
She says that in order for the project to succeed, it was important “to make children include their parents so that they start realizing that it is time that we contribute to the world to save our mother nature from destruction.”
Adeline’s enthusiasm is contagious. She and her colleagues soon formed a group called Sahabat Alam, or “Friends of Nature.” The number of children who joined Sahabat Alam and the environmental projects they took on grew quickly. The group’s activities included ecotourism, planting coral reefs, freeing Penyu Sisik (hawksbill turtles) and cleaning marine debris from beaches.
Several national and international Environmental Organizations have now recognized the work of Sahabat Alam. In May of 2009 Friends of Nature received the Biodiversity Foundation’s (Yayasan Kehati’s) Highest Award and Appreciation in honor of the group’s commitment toward developing awareness among children and youth as the next generation of stewards of Indonesia’s biodiversity.
Adeline says she feels honored that she was awarded first place in the 2009 International Young Eco-Hero Awards (for ages eight to thirteen) by the San Francisco-based Action for Nature, a non-profit organization that aims to inspire young people to take action for the environment and protect the natural world in their own neighborhood and around the globe. She was also selected as an Indonesian Delegate by UNEP (United Nation Environment Programme) to participate in the 2009 TUNZA International Children’s Conference in Daejon, Korea in August 2009.
Adeline doesn’t see herself as being much different from any other twelve-year-old. “I am not the only Eco-Hero,” she says. “Children, youths and adults all over the world can do the same thing as long as they have the willingness and commitment. This comes first from the heart, then from sharing with friends and starting to take action.”
Helping Rural Families
Adeline also sees the connection between the needs of people and the natural world. “I would like to help our remote brothers and sisters to fulfill their dream [of] flowing electricity into their houses for children to study, watch television, cook and all other activities, especially at night.” She is now involved with a program that is bringing electricity into remote areas that have never before had power. She points out that, “Nearly half of Indonesia’s 235 million people live in areas without electricity.”
The solution? An Electric Generator Water Reel, a small hydroelectric generator that uses the natural power of a waterfall to produce what Adeline describes as “clean, environmentally friendly, Green, renewable and sustainable energy that does not increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere or worsen the greenhouse effect.” The water reel simply turns in the falling water and doesn’t affect the waterfall or the flow of the stream. (See the box called “Reel Math”.)
Sahabat Alam is getting lots of help from parents and sisters, as well as the Indonesian Ministry of Environment. For the first installation, the group traveled to the region of South Cianjur, West Java, which is a four-hour drive from Jakarta. After walking up into the mountains for another two hours, the team finally reached the village of Kampung Cilulumpang. By the time they left, the villagers had electricity for the first time in their lives. The group is now building Electric Generator Water Reels for two other villages, and it plans to bring this project to villagers throughout Indonesia.
“Previously, children’s voices were not heard,” says Adeline, “but now, we are coming together to voice our commitment to our national leaders and world leaders, to make peace and start having one voice to save the Earth.”
“I share and affirm with all of them that, even with our small hands, children can initiate, contribute and implement environmental projects starting from their small community to nation-wide projects to contributing to the world by helping hinder climate change and global warming and save the earth from further destruction.”
“We are the next and future generations of the world. In our hands, the world and its contents are at stake.”
Adeline Tiffanie Suwana’s Friends of Nature website
Action for Nature
Change the World Kids
Young Voices on Climate Change
YouTube video for Catch the Wind, Harness the Sun
Sources That Explain Global Climate Change:
Tiki the Penguin
Global Warming Question and Answer Web Site, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/
National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS) Asheville, North Carolina
Renewable Energy for Kids:
EcoKids Canada, Earth Day Canada, Toronto, Ontario
Energy Kids, U.S. Energy Information Agency, Washington, D.C.
The Pembina Institute: Lessons & Activities, Curriculum Links
Natural Resources Canada’s Climate Change Teacher Resources: Grade 5
Michael J. Caduto, author, environmental educator, storyteller and ecologist, is well known as the creator and co-author of the landmark Keepers of the Earth® series and Native American Gardening. He also wrote Pond and Brook and Earth Tales from Around the World. His latest books are Catch the Wind, Harness the Sun: 22 Supercharged Projects for Kids (Storey Publishing) and Riparia’s River (Tilbury House). His many awards include the Aesop Prize, NAPPA Gold Award and the Brimstone Award (National Storytelling Network). Michael’s programs and publications are described on his website: www.p-e-a-c-e.net
Hood River Middle School Outdoor Classroom Project
The Outdoor Classroom Project is a work in progress where students are the researchers, engineers, designers, architects, builders, and users of a multidisciplinary, multi-sensory learning experience.
What you see when you approach the schoolgrounds at Hood River Middle School is nothing short of remarkable. From solar panels on the roof to a working greenhouse in the back, Hood River Middle School exhibits the markings of a unique and visionary school of the future.
As more and more schools around the country are beginning to organize their curriculum to include concepts of ecology, community, and sustainability, some programs, through innovation, vision and determination, move forward in meshing those concepts into a cohesive, integrated and successful program and serve as a model for others to follow. The Hood River Middle School Outdoor Classroom Project has become an exemplary program that began small and grew to encompass an ecological framework that gives students a unique blend of science, technology and permaculture that connects them to real world issues within their community.
Since 1998, science teacher Michael Becker has guided a program that offers students a higher level of connectivity between school and community. Using a hands-on approach to solving real-life problems, students at HRMS accelerate through the basic skills and concepts outlined in the Oregon Academic Benchmarks. The Outdoor Classroom Project is a work in progress where students are the researchers, engineers, designers, architects, builders, and users of a multidisciplinary, multi-sensory learning experience. The Outdoor Classroom Project connects students to key concepts in sustainability through a field based, experience-driven curriculum. Key themes of the project include Diversity, Water, Food, Energy, and Waste.
The Outdoor Classroom Project is divided into three separate strands. (more…)