First Eco-Schools USA “Green Flag” Awarded

from Wildlife Promise

On April 28th, I traveled to Savannah with my colleague, NaTaki Osborne Jelks, to visit the Savannah Country Day School Lower School (SCDS).  SCDS was one of the first schools to be registered as an Eco-School in November 2009, and had recently applied for the prestigious Green Flag award, the highest award in the Eco-Schools program.

Savannah Country Day School (Laura Hickey)

After a wonderful lunch with the Eco-Action Team dressed up with a vegetable arrangement from their garden, the Team, comprised of 1st through 5th graders and led by a 2nd grade Team educator, Carrie Stubbs-Vetrovsky, gave us a guided tour through the amazing LEED Silver certified Lower School.  The tour included extensive time outdoors, viewing the school’s certified NWF Schoolyard Habitat, vegetable and herb gardens, water catchment and composting areas. The students showed us how they measure the water in their cistern, and explained that they use this water for the gardens as well as the fountains. The Team also told us that their favorite part of the school day is the classes that they have outdoors.  As part of their addressing the Green Hour pathway, at least an hour each week is spent in the outdoor classrooms, and every teacher utilizes this for each grade.

Inside the school was just as impressive – every classroom and every hallway had an Eco bulletin board, many displayed with the school’s Eco-Code, “L.E.E.D.ing the way to a Greener Generation.” Other bulletin boards include information on composting, recycling, and energy, as well as using natural items (leaves, feathers, rocks, etc.) to decorate the boards. Every week, one of the Action Team members has a public announcement broadcast to each classroom with an Eco-Tip of the week.

A bulletin board displays Savannah Country Day School's Eco-Code (Laura Hickey)

The highlight of the day was, of course, the awarding of the Green Flag. The Lower School principal, Gayle Putnal, arranged for a whole school assembly – all 400 students were gathered in the main area, seated by grade.  The faculty had kept the awarding of the Green Flag a secret but the students were hopeful that they would achieve that status.

Ms. Putnal addressed the students – thanking them for their whole school support of the Eco-Schools USA program, and highlighting the many things that they have done to improve the sustainability of the school.  Carrie Stubbs-Vetrovsky acknowledged each member of the Eco-Action Team, which does include a student representative from each grade as well as teachers, parents, and community members.  NaTaki and I were introduced to the school with loud applause.

Awarding of Eco-Schools USA 'Green Flag' at Savannah Country Day School (Laura Hickey)

I asked the assemblage if Savannah Country Day School was an Eco-School.  The students screamed and clapped and said a resounding, “Yes!” I told them about the Eco-Schools program, and how SCDS is part of the largest green school program in the world.  I also told them that we were thrilled to be there in person to award SCDS with the very first Green Flag Award in the United States.  There was so much excitement, noise, clapping, and cheering, we could hardly hear ourselves think!! I also told them that achieving the Green Flag isn’t easy – that there are only 12,900 Green Flags in 51 countries, and now they have joined the ranks of these highly regarded sustainable schools.

Also in attendance for this historic event were the City of Savannah’s Mayor Pro Tem, Ms. Edna Jackson, as well as the City’s Environmental Affairs Officer, Ms. Laura Walker.  Ms. Jackson congratulated the school and thanked them for helping to make Savannah a “Green City.”

I think what made this so very special for me was that I have been fortunate to see Green Flag Eco-Schools in China, Scotland, and Norway, and to realize that America’s first Green Flag school, Savannah Country Day School, is incredibly similar.

Student assembly at Savannah Country Day School (Laura Hickey)

Student engagement, involvement, and leadership, increased environmental literacy, green school buildings, grounds, integration of environmental concepts into curriculum, and the support of the school faculty and administrators – all affirmation that the Eco-Schools USA program works, that it is effective, and that schools here in the US can achieve these levels of sustainability. Most of all, it was clear that these students care deeply about the environment and that they will, indeed, become the next generation of the Earth’s stewards.

Congratulations, Savannah Country Day School – we are so proud of your achievements!

To learn more about the work NWF is doing in the Southeast, click here.