Earth Day is a day to inspire conscientiousness surrounding environmental issues and sustainability. With that at the forefront of our minds today, the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) announced its winners.
ED-GRS is a program that recognizes schools, districts and institutions of Higher Education (IHEs) that “reduce environmental impact and costs, improve the health and wellness of schools, students, and staff, and provide environmental education.” These three criteria are known as the Pillars, and schools must demonstrate their commitment to these Pillars to be considered for the award. Some examples of how schools achieved these Pillars include collaborating with local farms and nature centers; recycling or reusing newspapers, soda bottles, cans, cardboard and bottle caps; and renovating buildings to become more energy efficient.
This year, 73 schools from 25 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Department of Defense Education Authority were honored as U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools. This year’s cohort consisted of 41 public schools and other private and higher education institutions. There were 27 elementary schools, 18 middle schools and 14 high schools honored. More than 50 percent of the honorees are institutions serving disadvantaged students.
Green Ribbon Schools was designed to both encourage and inspire schools to strive for excellence in the Pillars and to demonstrate the connection between healthier school environments and increased academic achievement, graduation rates and preparation for joining the workforce.
The program aims not only to recognize the success of these innovative schools, but—through the winning schools’ best practices and resources—to provide a model for all schools and encourage them to adopt and implement similar best practices. And not only do winners feel a sense of accomplishment, pride and mentoring, but all honorees are invited to attend a ceremony in Washington, D.C., where they receive a plaque and banner to honor their success.
The Green Ribbon Schools awards, though only in its fifth year, demonstrates that any school can “take steps to improve the sustainability, health, and safety of school facilities; ensure nutrition and fitness practices for a lifetime of wellness and productivity; and engage students in authentic, real-world learning.”
Andrea Suarez Falken, Director, U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools and Facilities, Health, and Environment Liaison, said of the program, “Working with dynamic environmental, social, and economic systems from an early age nurtures precisely the type of thinking, collaboration, and problem-solving skills that careers of the future require, whether these students graduate from green career and technical programs, green college preparatory schools, community colleges, or liberal arts colleges.”
Recognition of schools creating healthier environments in which students can learn and thrive is essential to our work here at Healthy Schools Campaign. Every year, we partner with American School & University magazine to award the Green Cleaning Award for Schools & Universities to schools and their facility leaders for the tireless work of promoting clean, healthy and sustainable school buildings.
We’d like to extend our congratulations to this year’s winners.