Tuesday, March 28, 2006

IDEA: Greening Your Schools

One way to effect the environment is to help green your local schools. This can take the form of urging greener policies with respect to the physical plant and operations, or can affect the curriculum both directly and indirectly. There are many ways to do this, but there are three over arching themes to keep in mind. For Part I, then, an overview of key considerations:

All Politics Are Local

Trying to get a district-wide policy change in any district is about the toughest way to make a change in schools. The larger the district or the more "under attack" district administrators feel no matter the size, the harder it is to get changes made.

In the end, however, each classroom teacher has pretty high level of professional discretion about classroom procedures and how to teach the curriculum. They also work together and share ideas more than people realize. So an easy place to start greening your school might be your own child's classroom.

If you help your child's classroom with a recycling project, for example, with the procedes used for an Earth Day Celebration in April, the next year all the other classrooms in that grade are likely to want to play too. As your child moves along, you have a new chance each year to help a fresh set of teachers with some green idea. A recycling program in a classroom can tie into any number of other activities, and is likely to have a lasting effect on these future leaders and voters.

Meanwhile, principals can affect policies and practices at their schools -- and successful programs often get copied and carried to other schools much the way as with classroom teachers.

If you get a principal excited about an idea for greening your school, very often it can be implemented at that level. The same sort of "we want that too" effect happens among principals the way it does with classroom teachers, so one school's new green policy will often spread. Occasionally a really good idea can jump from one school to an entire district, but the process is usually slower.

Tie it to the Budget

Many Green practices have unintended or unnoticed benefits for school budgets, and school budgets are always tight. So an administrative change that can reduce costs while being green is more likely to be noticed and implemented.

One example: recycling may be seen as creating extra work for custodians who have two kinds of trash to empty in hundreds of rooms and as being hard to "enforce." But recycling can save money by reducing the costs for ordinary trash. Moreover, many firms will provide a recycle "roll off" bin that they will pick up and process for the school for free.

In Southern California there is even an organization that will provide the recycle bins, empty them, haul the products and then write the school a check for the value of the recyclables.

Tie It To the Curriculum

Teachers are forever looking for ways to provide hands on, concrete experiences that reinforce classroom lessons. That same simple recycling program easily has ties into the science standards at the k-8 level, often directly related to resource use. Or it could be part of an extended math lesson on statistics and graphing. Or it could be part of an English unit on persuasive writing as students advocate for -- or against -- applying the program to the whole school. And when you can provide a program that happens to integrate several disciplines, you have found educational nirvana.

Coming Soon: Specific Programs to Ask for and Implement