Do you know the children’s book A House is a House for Me by Mary Ann Hoberman? Well, if you don’t, I’ll catch you up. It’s a sweet picture book that begins with, “A hill is a house for an ant, an ant. A hive is a house for a bee. A hole is a house for a mole or a mouse. And a house is a house for me!” The poem culminates with, “Each creature that’s known has a house of its own. And the Earth is a house for us all.”
For many years I was a teacher, so as soon as I hear the school bus making its trial run down my road, I have this heightened sense of expectancy of all things school related, good and bad. Think about the amount of hours kids spend in school each day–at least six, and for kids with before and after programs it can be upwards of 10 hours a day. There are 60 million students, faculty and staff in school in the United States on any given school day. All the more reason to be concerned about the most important teaching tool–the school house. Does the goal of your community school have the words “green and healthy” in its mission?
What is a green school? I see a building surrounded by trees. Maybe the kids are planting an organic garden and a teacher might be discussing the environmental advantages of conserving water, electricity and recycling paper. Certainly all of these images embody an eco-friendly school.
At closer inspection, communities with the environmental awareness to design green schools go beyond the surface and create schools with healthy air qualities that reduce electric and gas emitting pollutants (from burning fossil fuels) that cause a multitude of illnesses from asthma to allergies. They reduce water consumption, have efficient heating and cooling systems and create environments that enhance learning with energy-saving light fixtures and sources of natural light.
Sustainable schools use building materials that include everything from non-toxic paints to renewable flooring, and cleaning products that don’t pollute and make their inhabitants sick. Schools that are committed to the environment and taxpayers pocketbooks, convert their buses to bio-diesel fuel. Their communities promote safe sidewalks and bike lanes for walking and biking. Rarely are these green standards met in American schools.
Greening America’s Schools: The Costs and Benefits by Gregory Kats examined 30 LEED-certified schools built in the United States during the years 2001 through 2006. According to Kats, “On average these schools cost less than 2 percent more to build but provided financial benefits that were 20 times as large as the extra cost, using about one-third less energy and water than conventional schools.” The conclusion of this study said, “Building green schools is more fiscally prudent and lower risk than continuing to build unhealthy inefficient schools.”
Designing a school from scratch is a mighty noble endeavor. Greening an existing school is impressive in its own right. Here are seven steps to help you start creating green schoolhouses in your community (adapted from Eco-Schools International):
1. Establish a green team or eco-committee.
2. Adopt an environmental vision statement or planet pledge.
3. Conduct a school environmental survey or audit.
4. Create a green school plan.
5. Monitor and evaluate progress.
6. Integrate greening into the curriculum.
7. Inform, involve and celebrate.
I am looking forward to a September morning when I smell those bio-diesel buses rounding the bend on my road. It seems like a pivotal moment in the greening movement to improve the lives of our future citizens with green schools. Now that is a house for me!