Eco-Schools USA Case Study: Ben Franklin Elementary School
Ben Franklin Elementary School’s EPA Program teaches Civics and Government through an Environmental Lens
At Ben Franklin Elementary School in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, students are learning how to be leaders, engaged community members and true stewards of the environment. Last year the school launched the Ben Franklin EPA program, appointing students on a rotating basis to act as junior EPA representatives for their grade by meeting with administrators and teachers monthly to determine school greening activities. These representatives actively participate in the plan-making process, voice concerns of their fellow classmates, and communicate with peers about actions they can take to help the school accomplish its goals.
Each grade level focuses on greening a different aspect of the school (energy, water, recycling, etc.) with programmatic structure provided by the Eco-Schools USA program.
First Grade Focuses on Water
Last year, first graders at the school addressed water by implementing a Stream Keeper Project that had them monitoring the water quality of their stream, making nature observations and acting as scientists, ecologists and conservationists. The students gathered year-long data, tracked air and water temperatures, and created charts and graphs to display the data. “They became stewards of the stream, taking ownership of it and often referring to it as our stream,” according to first grade teacher Jeanne Muzi. In fact, many of the students would go home and advise their parents to not use too much fertilizer on the grass or to think about where the soap goes when they wash their car. Ben Franklin’s principal, Chris Turnbull, finds that students are developing skills and understanding concepts more readily because of the real-world context of their environmental projects. “We are seeing 6 year olds measuring water depth and converting Fahrenheit to Celsius without any assistance,” he notes.
Inspiration for the EPA program came through a relationship Principal Turnbull developed with Sustainable New Jersey and the U.S. EPA. He was part of an EPA delegation to Taiwan that was coordinated by these partners, and for the past year Ben Franklin has had a ‘sister school’ in Taiwan – Jian-An Elementary in New Taipei City.
A Global Dimension
Ben Franklin Elementary School’s environmental successes cannot be attributed only to the EPA program. Credit must also be given to the relationship the school has developed with its sister school in Taiwan. Utilizing Skype and a school wiki, students have been able to communicate with peers at their sister school, sharing successes and learning about how each school is working to make its campus more sustainable. For the first half of the year, students focused on getting to know each other, observing their cultural differences, but also seeing how they are the same and all goofy kids.
The Taiwan school was quite advanced in their environmental work and used their expertise to teach students and staff at Ben Franklin about things they could do to green their school, including recycling cooking oil and making soap. Students at both schools enjoyed sharing their projects with each other and found that having an audience for their work half a world away made them more focused and in many ways validated their efforts.
*Ben Franklin Elementary School has received a Silver Award through the Eco-Schools USA Program