My Trip to Poland for the Eco-Schools National Operators Meeting

Eco-Schools National Operators gathered with Green Flag in Krakow (Liz Soper)

After three flights and 24 hours of traveling, I finally touched down in Krakow, Poland, three weeks ago and was met by our wonderful friends from the Environmental Partnership Foundation, which run Ekoszkola (Eco-Schools) here.

I was in Poland for the 2011 Eco-Schools National Operators meeting, where National Operators from over 53 countries come together to network and work together to set program guidelines and develop strategy.

I quickly learned that the Polish language is a difficult one.  Just the description of it–“a lechitic subgroup of west Slavic languages with several different dialects,”–was hard for me to understand.  My favorite saying became “Czy mowisz po agielsku?” or, ‘do you speak English?’  Luckily, most Polish citizens I met did.

One of the highlights of these meetings is the opportunity to visit Eco-Schools in host countries. In this case, I chose to visit a high school site–“Gymnasium #2” in Myslenice.  An Eco-Schools Green Flag waved proudly outside the main building, and we were warmly welcomed by the headmaster and a group of students, who promptly took us for a tour of the highlights of their school and the sustainability work they had accomplished.

We moved through several classrooms, including the ecology room, where we saw many of the energy- related programs that the students had been working on (including a cool handmade diagram that allowed you to plug in activities and determine their carbon impact). The school also has a strong recycling program and great signage to explain how it works.

In addition to the tour, we were treated to a traditional Polish meal in the school cafeteria, courtesy of the students’ families. Here we had soups including borscht, pierogies, meats and cheeses. It was quite the feast!

Eco-Schools Green Flag waves outside 'Gymnasium #2' in Myslenice (Liz Soper)

Over the course of the next three days we welcomed new countries to our network; learned about new program

opportunities; explored new communication strategies that will allow Eco-Schools around the world to exchange ideas; and talked about standardization of criteria for the Green Flag award and possible energy assessment options for schools.

For me, the ability to spend time discussing our own programs and learn what others are doing in other countries is always the highlight of these meetings.  And of course, the evening events, which included a

nighttime tour of Krakow, a visit to the Salt Mine outside of Krakow (where we ate dinner 1900 meters underground) and a fabulous dinner at a traditional Polish Lodge with a band and young dancers, were a great bonus.

By the end of my time in Krakow, I was inspired and excited to return home to the U.S. and share what I had learned with my colleagues to enhance the Eco-Schools USA program.

As my Polish friends often said “Na zdrowie!” or, “Cheers!”

To learn more about the international Eco-Schools program, click here.

To learn about the Eco-Schools USA program, visit our website.