We always talk about aiming to maintain, preserve and protect our environment for our children and future generations. Families can encourage sustainable living and change how they eat, live, use resources and impact on their environment. Children learn by example both from their parents but also from their schools, peers and teachers. Educational environmental ethos is so very important in early education. Young children learn by example and can develop habits that will last a lifetime at that age. They are eager and enthusiastic young minds who are innately interested in their world and willing without prejudice to accept new concepts and ideals.
My child at 6 years of age was able to tell me about the destruction of the rain forests, he told me we should buy an electric car because we were causing the damage by burning fossil fuels. He was walking down the street one day and wanted to stop and explain to some men cutting down a neighbour’s tree that they were going to destroy the atmosphere. Now in our house he was learning about reducing and recycling waste, conserving electricity and eating healthy organic food. His school in California was taking this message further. The kindergarten teacher was encouraging the kids to learn about their world and realise the broader implication of their own environmental impact. The school recycle their waste, they educate children about environmental pollution, waste management and sustainable living. They use recycled products as much as possible. It was only last term that I was collecting donated newspaper ream end of rolls from a local newspaper printing works to use for art classes at the school.
The school also have a school garden growing organic fruit and vegetables. They don't have a gardener but a group of parents that maintain and manage the garden. The children can help in the garden sometimes and they get to pick produce to bring home for their dinner. All produced using sustainable organic farming methods. My child has brought home carrots and cabbages that he has picked fresh in the garden that lunchtime. The children have a thorough understanding of the life cycle of the plants growing in the garden. There are even hens in the school garden as one of the first grade teachers gets eggs from a local farmer every year and her class incubate them and watch them hatch, the chicks are reared, eventually they return to the farm from which the eggs came having taught 20 first graders about animal life cycles and also animal husbandry.
Every year the school holds its own farmers market. Local farmers bring their produce to the school to sell and the kids get tokens from their teacher to buy what they want. They also get to ask the farmers about their farms, how the vegetables are grown and even the best way to cook and eat them. This doesn’t stop at elementary level the local high school has an agricultural programme as well with its own farmyard. Seniors at the high school work on the farm, learning agricultural practice and animal husbandry. Cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, ducks and rabbits are reared there. My sons love visiting there in the afternoons, the high school students are more than willing to talk to them about the animals. It is an amazing learning experience.
Just recently teachers from an organisation called ‘Hidden Villa’ visited my son’s classroom, it is a California non profit educational organisation that uses its organic farm, wilderness, and community to teach and provide opportunities to learn about the environment and social justice.
Hidden Villa stretches over 1600 acres of open space in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, about 40 miles south of San Francisco. Teachers from Hidden Villa came to the school as part of their Environmental Education Program to teach the children about organic farming and the wilderness that is around them. The children also went on the field trip to Hidden Villa. The single day experience gave the kids hands-on experiences with the farm animals and garden. They got the chance to hike through the wilderness and discover the distinctions between wild and domesticated spaces. The California curriculum encourages teachers to use organisations like Hidden Villa as a lab and springboard for multiple aspects of their curriculum, including creative writing, science and ecology.
It is not just California schools that are becoming environmentally aware. Across the United States schools are involved in environmental education but also in becoming more sustainable and reducing the environmental impact of their own organisations. They are know as Green Schools. Many are implementing sustainable strategies. They have environmental purchasing policies, reduce their waste, improve efficiency and use of natural resources, reduce toxins and encourage use of environmental products. They encourage healthy living with walk to school days and alternative transport, green construction, greening the physical school environment and sustainable building design. Some American states have legislated that all new schools must be of green design/environmentally friendly design. Environmentally friendly and energy efficient designs can help reduce costs and waste of natural resources. Green Schools have been reported to use 40% less water and 30% less energy.
Tarkington elementary is the first school in Chicago to become U.S. Green Building Council's LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified. It was completed in 2005 and classes began on Tuesday, October 4 of that year. With a building area approximately 134,000 square feet (12,400 m2), the school sits on a 9.82-acre (39,700 m2) site. It serves up to 1,000 elementary school students. The building is built from sustainable materials where possible. Reduced toxin paints and materials were used where possible in the construction to ensure a clean air environment. Recycled glass was used and extra large windows were designed to utilise natural light. Tarkington has solar panels on its rooftop and it has a rooftop garden. The garden acts as insulation that helps regulate the building's temperature. The roof also has a water management system that drains water directly into pipes that take it to a reservoir lagoon. By going to school in this environment students are not only healthier but learning about the environment and reducing their carbon footprint at the same time.
Lick-Wilmerding High School in San Francisco is another school designed to be green. Alternet.com has designated it as the 6th top high school in the United States utilising Green Architecture.
It has a rooftop garden or living roof as some have called it. It also has solar panels and windmills generating natural energy. The solar panels generate enough electricity to run 85 computers. Paper, plastic, cans, bottles are all recycled. Food waste is composted. Recycled and biodegradable materials are used where possible. Architecture classes teach green building design and practices incorporating eco-design and recycling/reuse principles in the curriculum.
The Lick-Wilmerding School
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