Pennsylvania Schools: Leading the Way to a Sustainable Future

Long before the US Green Ribbon Schools Award was established, there were ‘green guardians’ of schools and universities. These folks arrived to campus early, left late, and spent countless weekends and summers preparing, planting, pruning, watering, and taking action to conserve and protect resources. And to this day, they are the quiet champions of our schools and our environment.

US Department Green Ribbon School Award

In 2011, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and 80 other supporting organizations collaborated with the US Department of Education to develop award criteria to recognize these champions at schools, districts, and Institutions of Higher Education that are making progress to green school grounds, buildings, and curriculum. The U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) recognition award honors public and private elementary, middle, and high schools, districts, and postsecondary institutions that are demonstrating progress in three Pillars: 1) reducing environmental impact and costs, including waste, water, energy use and alternative transportation; 2) improving the health and wellness of students and staff; and 3) providing effective sustainability education.

Pennsylvania Green & Healthy Schools Partnership

Earlier this year and under the leadership of Lori Braunstein, the Pennsylvania Green & Healthy Schools Partnership (PAGHSP) adopted NWF’s Eco-Schools 7-Step Framework and Pathways to Sustainability resources and curriculum to support Pennsylvania schools statewide. In May, Charles Patton Middle School, a U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School, was the first school in Pennsylvania to receive the Eco-Schools Green Flag Award– the program’s highest and most prestigious award.

Charles Patton Middle School becomes the first school in Pennsylvania to receive the Eco-Schools Green Flag Award. Photo credit: Kim Martinez

What makes Charles Patton Middle School a model for sustainability? Ninety percent of grounds are devoted to vegetable and flower gardens, including 30 raised beds, a greenhouse, wildlife and native plant habitats, a solar array, composting, pervious trails, protected wetlands, and plantings by a local farmer who engages in annual crop rotation. Two outdoor classrooms provide space for learning in a natural environment. Students learn and observe nature and investigate vegetation and wildlife. High tunnels are a ten-minute walk away, and an accessible walkway to the high tunnels is being built of recycled composite materials. Science classes go outside regularly to explore nature, conduct experiments, learn about the growing process, water, and harvest. Orienteering classes teach students how to use a compass and calculate distance, as well as how to find an object using coordinates.

Accolades in Harrisburg

On June 24th, the PAGHSP hosted an award ceremony in the Capitol Media Center in Harrisburg to congratulate Pennsylvania’s 2015 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools– Northampton Community College and Charles Patton Middle School, as well as the Pennsylvania nominee, the School District of Jenkintown. The ceremony featured three cabinet secretaries: PA Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Quigley, PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn, and PDE Secretary Pedro Rivera. Pennsylvania legislators, Senator Art Haywood, Rep. Steve McCarter, Rep. Marsha Hahn, Rep. Jack Rader, Senator Mario Scavello, Rep. Chris Ross, Sen. Dominic Pileggi, and Senator Lisa Boscola recognized the awardees on the house and senate floors, presented citations to school teams, and participated in the award ceremony and photo opportunities.

Pennsylvania Green & Healthy Schools President, Lori Braunstein, provided opening remarks. Photo credit: House Republican Committee

Your School Can Do It Too!

With support from state agencies, collaborative partnerships, and exemplary leadership, Pennsylvania schools will continue to reduce environmental impact and costs, improve the health and wellness of students and staff, and provide effective sustainability education. Look for the 2016 Green Ribbon Schools applications in late August and contact to become a Pennsylvania Eco-School.

To register as an Eco-School, click here.

To learn more about the work NWF is doing in the Mid-Atlantic region, click here.