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Blue Skies and Sustainable Cultures Shine in Colorado's Green Schools

September 17th was a time of celebration for Colorado as we became the focus of the Green Strides Best Practices Tour. Andrea Suarez Falken, ED Green Ribbon Schools Director, and other federal, state, and local government officials, visited schools and districts throughout the state that have demonstrated sustainable practices and environmental leadership in public education. As a science teacher and school administrator at Kinard Middle School in Fort Collins, Colorado, I was honored to have these visitors witness firsthand what we have accomplished and celebrate our commitment to environmental stewardship, health, and environmental education.

At Kinard Middle School, we believe in providing students with an authentic, engaging learning environment that reflects the civic responsibilities they will face in the real world. It is our responsibility as teachers to empower students to own their learning through practical applications that let them impact their school and community in meaningful, healthy ways. This is what gets me out of bed every day: I want students to leave a lasting legacy on their world.

The Kinard C.A.R.E.S. class composts over 20,000 lbs. of food waste each year. (Photo credit: Kinard Core Knowledge Middle School)

Eight years ago, my students and I initiated an environmental leadership class at our school called Kinard C.A.R.E.S. (Community, Action, Results, Environment, Service) focused on inspiring change in our school and community through service-learning projects. The effort has resulted in composting over 20,000 lbs. of food waste each year at our school and diverting approximately 70 percent of our trash from the landfill each year.

Our environmental leadership curriculum replaces the traditional “learning silos” with an interdisciplinary curriculum that focuses on the complexities of systems in the real world. We are developing 21st century skills through team-building exercises to promote creativity, innovation, problem solving, and effective communication, as demonstrated by our students during a guided tour of school facilities.

When I heard that the Green Strides Tour was coming, it was a no-brainer that students would lead the event. Visitors were impressed with how articulately they described unique energy features like geothermal heating and cooling, wind-powered electricity, and natural daylight, all of which contribute to make Kinard the most energy- efficient school in the state of Colorado. This wasn’t rote learning; students clearly showed that they owned these concepts and their school as well as any architect or designer.

The group also visited two of our neighboring schools: Wellington Middle School andLesher Middle School. At Wellington, the school’s Eco-Club is made up of students who work to keep the school focused on saving energy, recycling, and tracking the school’s wind turbine energy data. Students visit a local dairy, and sewage and water treatment facilities to experience first-hand the concepts they learn in classes, and is host for Innovation Camp, a STEM camp for middle school students across northern Colorado. At Lesher, we heard about an impressive Bike-to-School Week, when 40 percent of students and staff log 4,000 miles, an Iron Viking Adventure Race, a sustainability class, and a 2006 $3.7 million remodel resulting in a new media center, fitness center, art room, and general education classrooms with energy-efficient features, including unit ventilators, solar tubes, double-pane thermal windows, solar shades, and new lighting.

In creating a comprehensive green school, my colleagues and I helped students identify how their actions influence our interconnected world; maximized learning with collaborative green building practices and conservation behaviors; discovered that student success is a product of a healthy school environment; and ultimately realized that the three Pillars of ED-GRS are profound guideposts for all schools, whatever their starting point.

Here in Poudre School District, the tour felt like a celebration and culmination of the vision we’ve been striving for over many years. I’ve never been more proud of our students and the work that they have contributed to our school culture.

Chris Bergmann is Assistant Principal at Kinard Core Knowledge Middle School in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Note: U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools recognizes schools, districts and postsecondary institutions that are 1) reducing environmental impact and costs; 2) improving health and wellness; and 3) teaching environmental education. To share innovative practices in these three ‘Pillars,’ the Department conducts an annual Green Strides Best Practices Tour of honorees.

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