“The School District Scholarship program provides real, on the ground opportunities for entire school districts to engage in sustainability improvements and ongoing education,” said Rachel Gutter, director of the Center for Green Schools at USGBC at the time. “We are so pleased to highlight the good work already being done by this year’s recipients and to be able to further their efforts through networking, professional development and on-site assistance.”
Scholarship recipients include: New York Department of Education in New York, N.Y.; Paterson Public Schools in Paterson, N.J.; Fayetteville Public Schools in Fayetteville, Ark.; Burnsville-Eagan-Savage Independent School District in Burnsville, Minn., and Sacramento City Unified School District in Sacramento, Calif, all of which are supported with funding from United Technologies Corp. Glendale-River Hills School District in Glendale, Wisc., was also selected and supported with funding from Transwestern.
Specific benefits available to scholarship recipients include participation in the Center for Green School’s School Sustainability Leaders Summit, an annual event that convenes staff responsible for sustainability programs at school districts of all sizes throughout the country, giving them direct access to resource conservation and energy managers, facilities directors and other industry experts. Scholarship recipients are also fully funded for travel to the annual Greenbuild Conference and Expo, ongoing professional development support and direct access to the nation’s leading green schools experts throughout the year.
“These sustainability-minded school districts have the opportunity to become pioneers in developing meaningful and scalable environmental strategies,” added John Mandyck, chief sustainability officer, United Technologies Building & Industrial Systems. “Their work will have measurable benefits for the health and academic success of all students, while providing the foundation for a more environmentally aware and educated generation.”
According to the USGBC, studies have repeatedly shown that improving specific aspects of a student’s classroom environment leads to better memory, attention, concentration, task speed and more. The scholarship program allows administrators to evaluate and plan for changes system wide and to elevate the level of the conversation in their communities regarding green school design and operation.
Brenda Zemo, Environmental Occupational Health and Safety Officer for Paterson Public Schools, said that the changes the scholarship will bring about will "encourage staff and students to use our schools as a living component of sustainability."
"Our children will see what sustainability is, and they’ll be living it," Zemo said. "By the time they finish their education, they’ll be able to go out into the world and understand what resource management is."
Zemo said that the district has recently completed an energy audit, which requires schools to look at every aspect of its energy usage, including lights, fans, air conditioning units, refrigerators, and the like. "Audits are being done in every single school," she said. "We're in the infancy stages of putting this all together. We are looking at so many aspects of sustainability, it would be too cumbersome to try and complete every single one at once."
Zemo added that one school, PS 1, is working with its parent-teacher organization to discuss sustainability and what it means for parents as well as the district. She said that one solution inspired by the scholarship was to recycle student uniforms. "When children outgrow their uniforms, they are washed and kept in the school so that parents aren't continually buying new uniforms," she said. "Some families may not be able to afford that, so we're not only helping them out, but we're recycling our resources."
She added that getting the Paterson community at large involved is a key component to achieving sustainability goals in the school district. Currently, the district is waiting to hear back from a local hardware store about whether or not it will donate "hydration stations."
"Instead of having water bottles, the students would use one container and refill it at the hydration station," she said. "It will reduce the amount of plastic we're putting into the landfill."
Zemo said that other goals for use of the scholarship include developing a district-wide sustainability team and advisory council, as well as a sustainability coordinator in each school. "If we can reduce waste in each and every school, we will also support the district's education initiatives through fiscal responsibility. The development of a sustainable purchasing department would help us balance educational, financial and environmental issues in daily decision making."
The large, urban school district has a large task ahead in order to achieve its sustainability goals, but Zemo said that she - as well as the district as a whole - believe wholeheartedly in its importance. The knowledge that comes from living sustainably is something that students will take with them throughout their lives, she said. Additionally, students' health can benefit tremendously from these initiatives. "If we move towards a more sustainable environment," she said, "we would be able to hopefully drive down the asthma related problems that we have in urban areas."
Zemo added that the key driver for these initiatives will be involvement from the district, the community, students, parents, and local businesses. "In order for this to be successful, we have to have all stakeholders at the table," she said.