Three Colorado schools – Denver Green School, Flagstone Elementary in Castle Rock and Wellington Middle School in Wellington – have been named Green Ribbon Award winners by the U.S. Department of Education.
They’re among 78 schools nationwide to win the honor, which is being given this year for the first time.
Green Ribbon Schools is a federal recognition program launched last fall to identify schools that have a comprehensive approach to recycling, energy sustainability, environmental health and sustainability education.
Flagstone students study sustainable energy
Chantel Astler, on the faculty at Flagstone Elementary, suspects she is the only Future of Energy and Sustainability teacher in Colorado – possibly in the country. Every student in every grade at the school rotates through her classes at some point during the year. She’s a big part of the reason Flagstone was singled out for recognition.
“We have lots of programs,” Astler said. “I try to teach them sustainable energy practices. The first thing we did this year was weigh our waste stream. We weighed our trash for a month and figured out we throw out about 185 pounds of trash a day, even though we have a recycling program. We found out we were throwing away things that could be recycled, so the kids came up with ideas to change that.”
Flagstone kids have even begun recycling things that typically are not recycled, like potato chip bags and juice pouches. They collect these items for a company that “up-cycles” them, that is, turns them into something else.
The school is also a community collection point for batteries, plastic bags, printer cartridges, cell phones and other technology recyclables.
The students at Flagstone conduct energy audits around the school, and they’re running a contest to see who can manage energy habits the best. Last year, the school earned a $6,000 rebate from the district for reducing energy costs, and expects to earn about $8,000 this year, Astler said.
In addition, the school expects to install a wind turbine over the summer, she said. “And we just installed a garden this past weekend.”
Flagstone principal Dan Streeter said the school first took steps to become more environmentally friendly about six years ago, and the program has since blossomed. “We do everything from terracycling to gardening to having an eco-team,” he said. “This program touches every kid in the building.”
Denver Green School focuses on environment
Similar things are going on at Denver Green School, a DPS Innovation School that focuses its whole curriculum around being green and preparing students to pursue environmental careers.
Second-graders at the school conduct energy audits. The sixth-graders did a water audit at the school.
And the first-graders implemented a terra-cycling project to collect waste not normally recyclable and sending it to a collection agency to be repurposed.
Students also monitor the energy production of the school’s solar panels and track carbon savings. In addition, the school has a water-friendly garden.
Wellington first school on the Front Range with a wind turbine
Wellington Middle School, a 400-student school in the Poudre Valley School District, also has a wind turbine, the first school on the Front Range to receive one.
“We’ve been working with the National Renewable Energy Lab to help us use that in a way students can learn from, and pique their interest in new ways to generate energy,” said principal Alicia Durand.
The district’s sustainability management system helps all the schools in the district regulate their energy management, and Wellington is consistently lauded for its energy efficiency.
Planet Wellington, a student group, works on everything from composting to putting reminders around the school about ways to save energy. The school also uses its rural location to good advantage, Durand said. There’s a dairy within walking distance, and classes go there to learn about agriculture. Grant Farms, a large community supported agriculture farm, is also nearby and frequently hosts student groups.
Durand also has plans to build three outdoor classrooms on the school grounds.
“This is a big deal,” she said. “It’s a big deal for our community, for the school, and a big deal for Colorado to have three schools chosen,” she said. “But we’re hoping it’s just a start. We’ll have more opportunities to do things in the future that just weren’t possible before now.”