Small School Makes a Big Journey

A Look Back at How We Received the Eco-Schools Green Flag Award

Spectrum Charter School, located in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, is small in size (32 students), but big in caring for the environment. Using the environment as a context for learning, students investigate and solve environmental issues.

Spectrum Charter provides school-to-work transition instruction in the classroom and on-site at businesses for students ages 13-21. The program is structured to meet the needs of students who do not learn well in typical classroom settings due to unique cognitive, communication, and sensory challenges, including students with autism spectrum disorders.

As schools get ready to start the new academic year, we want to recall how we earned our Eco-Schools USA Green Flag award as an example for others to follow.

First, students and staff developed an extensive reduce, reuse, recycling program. Then, we decided to tackle energy consumption and began our journey by forming an Eco-Action Team that consisted of students, staff, a parent and a community partner, Shop Demo Depot. The team met in the early Fall and decided on which audits they would complete. The team had an ambitious agenda for the school year and were excited to begin.

Community Recycling Day. Photo by Amber Simcic
Community Recycling Day. Photo by Amber Simcic

One group conducted an energy audit and developed an energy-saving plan for the entire school to follow. They posted reminders around the school to turn off the lights or computers when not in use. Another group performed a water audit and also developed a plan to conserve water by posting signs at all faucets to make sure the water was turned off. The third group designed a plan for an outdoor classroom environment to utilize our existing green area. Our last group conducted an audit of our schools already existing reduce, reuse, and recycling program to identify ways to improve it. The team met monthly to share their progress and ideas.

Following the audits and plan developments, the team brainstormed ideas for our school’s eco-code and proudly displayed it at the entrance of the school. They decided on using the letters of our schools name: Spectrum (Saves energy, Protects our earth, Environmentally friendly, Cleans up, Turns off lights, Recycle/reuse, Unites together, Manages waste).

The Eco-Team was then ready to begin implementing their plans. Students could be found turning off lights and reminding teachers to turn off their computers at the end of the day. Other students reminded classmates to make sure the faucets were turned off. One classroom teamed up with our community partner, Shop Demo Depot, to build two picnic tables for our outdoor classroom and painted birdhouses made out of recycled pallets. Team members could also be seen reminding students and staff to properly recycle lunch items.

Outdoor reading class. Photo by Becky Smail
Outdoor reading class. Photo by Becky Smail

This learning process of becoming an eco-friendly school did not just end with the team. The entire school also participated in an embryology project where they experienced the process of caring for and incubating chicken eggs until they hatched. After days of caring for the chickens, they were taken to a local farm that students would later visit.

Additionally, to include the community in our eco-journey, our school sponsored an electronics recycling day at a local park. Residents from the community were able to bring in various electronic equipment (computers, phones, etc.) to be recycled in an eco-friendly manner.

This upcoming school year, students and school staff are excited to continue the projects and implement more environmentally-friendly plans. The teachers remain committed to infusing environmental education into their classrooms by increasing awareness in taking care of our earth.

Learn MoreLearn more about Eco-Schools USA and how you can get involved



About the Author: Becky Smail has a Bachelor of Science in Special Education. She has been a paraprofessional at Spectrum Charter School for 13 years. She is the lead staff for the Eco-Club and guided efforts in earning the Eco-Schools USA Green Flag Award. This year, she has continued to bring unique opportunities and learning experiences to students in the areas of sustainability, eco-learning, and nutrition.

Published: August 11, 2016