The advantages to building a green school are obvious: a healthy, more productive environment for students, faculty, and staff, plus energy and taxpayer savings. But one aspect of a sustainable school that may have been overlooked in the past is the chance to incorporate green into the curriculum. That’s all changing. “It really is the greatest opportunity…presented by green schools,” Rachel Gutter, schools sector manager for the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), tells Green Products and Technology. “[This is] the opportunity to foster a new generation of sustainable natives as opposed … to sustainable immigrants.” While adult “immigrants” are forced to make all kinds of behavior modifications to go green, she explains, what is taught about sustainability to the “native” students becomes second nature.
“It is programmed into [the students] when they come out of these environments,” she says.
One Virginia public school, T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, is attempting to set an example. When the school, best known for the film "Remember the Titans," reopened its doors in September following a $100 million renovation, green took center stage in the building as well as in the curriculum. Sustainability topics were incorporated into the lesson plans of earth science, physics, biology, television production, photography, mathematics, computer-aided design, culinary arts, and building trades. In some cases, the students got up close and personal with the construction process. For example, students taking the building trades course received demonstrations of actual construction materials and had opportunities to see electrical, plumbing, carpentry, and masonry demonstrations.
“I am really excited that T.C. Williams is going above and beyond the obvious choices,” Gutter says. “It is wonderful to hear public schools making the leap.”
Currently, there are 60 schools nationwide that have met at least the certified level of LEED certification; T.C. Williams is one of 360 schools currently seeking approval for certified status.
T.C. Williams has numerous green features, most notably a 450,000-gallon underground cistern that collects and stores non-potable rainwater for use in toilet flushing, air-conditioning operations, and irrigation. The cistern will save 5 million gallons of potable water a year, which, says Mark X. Burke, the director of planning and construction for Alexandria City Public Schools, will translate into a $30,000 to $40,000 annual savings.
Other schools, Gutter says, also have made significant strides to incorporate green into everyday life, including Great Seneca Creek Elementary School in Germantown, Md., Twenhofel Middle School in Independence, Ky., Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C., and the Bertschi School in Seattle.
At Sidwell Friends School, which is the first school in the nation to achieve LEED Platinum, students study water purification systems and ecosystems in wetlands they constructed. In addition, Gutter says the kids use the green roof to grow herbs served in the cafeteria. And the school also asks students and teachers to come up with other ideas for the new eco-curriculum.
According to Gutter, Great Seneca Creek Elementary's administration put up so much signage that students can’t go anywhere without seeing explanations of all the building’s green features. “The end result,” says the USGBC official, “is that all of the kids are well versed in all the technologies--right down to the geothermal system.”
Meanwhile, both Bertschi and Twenhofel allow students to monitor the schools’ daily energy consumption.
These hands-on, practical teachings of green building are ensuring that sustainability becomes second nature to the next generation.