Schools Go Green: Homework, Lunch, Buses Get an Eco-Makeover

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With paperless homework, bookless backpacks, zero waste lunches, plastic-free filtered water and classrooms without walls, today’s parents and teachers are bringing eco-friendly ways to schools and giving students an early appreciation of the importance of environmental health.

Going green goes both ways— home to school and school to home. Alysia Reiner, an actress and eco-advocate from New York’s Harlem neighborhood, became involved with the Bank Street School for Children when her daughter enrolled at age 3. “I’m green at home, so in my mind her school had to be green, too. With no programs in place, I made suggestions, which got me elected co-chair of the green committee,” says Reiner, with a smile.

“Today, we have a school-wide composting program serving 1,500 students that has reduced previous levels of food waste by 75 percent. To raise awareness and funds to support it, we sold reusable snack sacks, stainless steel water bottles and home composting bags.” An innovative chef focuses on organic foods with vegetarian options for school lunches. Thememo requesting garbage-free lunches for her three children at the New England School-Montessori, she couldn’t imagine packing food without the use of plastic wrap, sandwich bags or paper napkins, but, “Now, it’s no big deal,” she says. “I use glass containers and cloth napkins. The kids eat better quality food. It costs less, too, because prepackaged snacks are out.” She notes that the governing rule is one protein, one fruit and one vegetable. The school even has a natural composter—a class guinea pig that loves to eat leftover veggies. next step is a rooftop garden.

When Sheila Hageman, an author, teacher and public speaker living in Milford, Connecticut, first read the memo requesting garbage-free lunches for her three children at the New England School-Montessori, she couldn’t imagine packing food without the use of plastic wrap, sandwich bags or paper napkins, but, “Now, it’s no big deal,” she says. “I use glass containers and cloth napkins. The kids eat better quality food. It costs less, too, because prepackaged snacks are out.” She notes that the governing rule is one protein, one fruit and one vegetable. The school even has a natural composter—a class guinea pig that loves to eat leftover veggies.

Students often bring the first of their homegrown vegetables each season for show and tell in the classroom, where they normally eat lunch. It’s a neat way to avoid massproduced food; the school has no cafeteria. “A little change becomes part of a lifestyle,” remarks Hageman.

Oxbridge Academy of the Palm Beaches, for grades nine through 12, in West Palm Beach, Florida, provides a near-paperless experience for students, all of which are issued computers. Homework is assigned, completed, graded and returned; tests are given and graded; report cards are sent and textbooks studied—all online.

“We buy one set of print books, since not all students learn the same way. But e-books can be updated electronically each year, saving the educational costs of outdated materials and financial costs of replacement,” says Teresa Thornton, Ph.D., the science teacher who spearheaded many of the school’s green initiatives. “By the end of the year, they know how to use software programs to organize and analyze information.”

In Pittsburgh, Chatham University follows the example of eco-pioneer and Silent Spring author Rachel Carson, a class of 1929 NA_San_Antonio_09_13_web_Page_30_Image_0001alumna, to preserve, maintain and restore nature. With the goal to be carbon neutral by 2025, sustainability becomes part of every decision. The Chatham Eastside facility, located in a revitalization area, reclaimed a former manufacturing complex.

“We are the first school in Pennsylvania to have a solar hot water system,” says Mary Whitney, the school’s sustainability coordinator. “Bottled water was banned in 2011 and filtered water stations provide free refills for stainless steel bottles. The rent-a-bike program is especially popular with international students.” The two campus Zipcars shared by students can be reserved for a fee. Students also ride free on public transportation.

In Chattanooga, Tennessee, at the Calvin Donaldson Environmental Science Academy, students gain the knowledge and experience to extend the difference they make beyond greening their school. Anne Vilen, a designer for expeditionary learning schools like Donaldson, says, “It’s empowering for students to discover they can make a real impact.”

Connect with Avery Mack via AveryMack@Mindspring.com.

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