Thursday, April 22, 2021

DEP Teaching Green: 4 PA Schools Receive National, State Green Ribbon Schools Recognition

On April 22, the U.S. Department of Education
recognized 40 educational institutions nationwide as 2021 Green Ribbon Schools, District Sustainability Awardees, and Postsecondary Sustainability Awardees, according to DEP's Teaching Green newsletter

Three Pennsylvania schools on being honored as Green Ribbon Schools:

-- Hance Elementary School (Pine Richland School District), Allegheny County;

-- Commonwealth Charter Academy (Harrisburg Campus); and

-- Lehigh University

Central Cambria School District received a state finalist designation through the PA Pathways to Green Schools Program that guides aspiring Pennsylvania schools to US Department of Education Green Ribbon Award status.

Schools are honored for their innovative efforts to reduce environmental impact and utility costs, improve health and wellness, and ensure effective sustainability education.

Here is more information on the winning Green Ribbon Schools.

Hance Elementary School; Gibsonia, Allegheny County 

Hance Elementary School (Hance) sits on approximately 10-15 acres of land and features a plant wall in the entryway and skylights throughout the building. Hance created an outdoor classroom with the support of the Hance PTO, Pine-Richland Opportunities Fund, students, and staff during the 2019-2020 school year. 

The outdoor space features an amphitheater, picnic tables with umbrellas, and a covered shelter where teachers can facilitate class, brain breaks, or mask breaks during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

An outdoor walking path was also installed that year to promote the health and wellness of students, staff, and the community.

Hance has tracked consumption of all utilities to determine where conservation efforts can be made and participates in the local utility’s programs to conserve energy. 

Water is tested periodically in all buildings for lead exposure, and all toilets are low flow. Aerators and faucet screens are cleaned on a regular basis, and water use is monitored. 

Gifted and talented students created a rain garden to reduce stormwater runoff. Rain gauges and barrels were installed in the back of the school near the outdoor classroom so that students can learn about the water cycle.

The Pine-Richland School Board instituted a policy requiring all schools in the district to establish an Integrated Pest Management plan to reduce or eliminate pesticide use that addresses needs specific to the school. 

Routine testing is conducted to monitor radon levels and air quality in the building. Custodians at Hance use Green Seal certified cleaning products for 90 percent of their cleaning applications, ensuring that the products in use are friendly to humans and the environment by eliminating dangerous VOCs and toxic chemicals.

The school district has contracted with a transportation provider that predominantly uses propane fuel, and Hance has implemented and expanded their efforts. No- idling signs are posted at all entrances to Hance facilities, and the loading and drop- off area is at least 25 feet away from the building.

All light bulbs, batteries, glass, chemicals, and electronics are recycled or neutralized for disposal. Old computers, monitors, and TVs are recycled as well, along with printer cartridges and cell phones. 

Hance installed a “buddy bench” made from 540 recycled milk jugs, purchased three water bottle filling stations, and funded water bottles for each student. Waste-free lunch days are sponsored throughout the school year. The Hance PTO hosts a book swap every spring, and Hance participates in Crayola ColorCycle.

Led by third grade students, Hance has participated in Healthy Schools PA, sponsored by Women for a Healthy Environment. This Pennsylvania initiative allows schools to submit a report card with various levels of achievement to be considered for an award. 

The report card provides criteria in the areas of curriculum integration, community engagement, professional development, sharing success, school philosophy and culture, air quality, water, waste and recycling, energy, health and well-being, transportation, and school grounds.

Hance has developed a Wellness Committee that includes support from the PTO and members of the Hance Elementary Instructional Leadership Team. 

The Wellness Committee created before- and after-school programs, such as Girls on the Run, Kids of Steel, and yoga, to encourage physical activity. 

Friday Focus lessons offer social and emotional learning activities. The school counselor and principal conduct “Minute Meetings” three times per year with students to ensure they are connected with the school and peers and are having a positive experience during their time at Hance.

Two sensory paths were installed in the building for students to use during the school day. The Hance PTO created a relaxation station for teachers during the pandemic, featuring massage chairs, as well as new curtains, seating, and paint in the teachers’ lounge. 

Students in grades K-3 are engaged in a schoolwide positive behavior support system that allows them to earn tickets for positive behaviors to earn healthy rewards, such as extra recess, a nature walk, or a read aloud by a guest reader in the outdoor classroom area.

New science resources focus on the environment and sustainability. Students in kindergarten learn about the needs of plants and animals, while first grade lessons expand upon those concepts by focusing on animal and plant defenses. 

Second grade and third grade students continue to learn about the environment by studying how landforms change as well as weather and climate. These environmental concepts are tied into social studies and English language arts classes. 

Students are able to study these concepts while being immersed in the outdoor classroom, making direct connections to the environment surrounding them. The Hance library has an extensive collection of books regarding environmental and sustainable topics, and a new STEM lab facilitates students’ learning about the environment.

Commonwealth Charter Academy; Harrisburg, Dauphin County

Commonwealth Charter Academy (CCA) is a Title I public, cyber charter school serving K-12 students across Pennsylvania. 

Students, 55 percent of whom are socioeconomically disadvantaged, do not report to a physical location, accessing their work at home, but buildings are maintained to provide a resource for hands-on experiences that would not be accessible in a home setting. 

CCA started the school year with approximately 10,000 students, which increased to 19,000 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

CCA reaches students through virtual instruction and provides face-to-face opportunities at 11 Family Service Centers. Five of these facilities include drop-in centers or areas where students can choose to report daily or weekly for assistance with their courses, tutoring, field trips, and other programming. 

Students can participate in field trip opportunities in their area. CCA invested in three mobile classrooms to enhance regional field trips. Each mobile lab specializes in certain activities, with one specifically catering to sustainable learning through aquaponics.

As a cyber school, CCA is uniquely suited to address sustainability. For example, there is no daily bus commute for students. When a student requests to attend a drop-in center, they are encouraged to take mass transportation, with CCA offering to provide bus passes free of charge. 

Students bring their lunches if they plan to stay for the day. From home, they submit their work through an online learning management system, reducing paper waste. Many science

experiments include items that are typically found in the home, reducing shipping costs for curriculum kits.

In December 2018, a CCA Works Initiative was begun to introduce and guide students through the career planning process, with assistance from some of the largest employers in Pennsylvania. 

One of its Works centers, AgWorks, at the Capital Campus building, is the largest K-12 school-based aquaponic facility in the country. Aquaponics allow the operator to grow fresh, organic produce and raise fish. 

At CCA, this produce is provided to local restaurants or donated to the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank.

The facility includes fish tanks, grow beds, clarifiers, LED lights, and technology to bring learning alive to students. 

AgWorks is 100 percent powered by 1,050 solar panels, located on the roof of the building.  The remaining energy is used to supplement power to the rest of Capital Campus. 

Students use an online dashboard to learn about energy production and how to reduce energy usage and costs.

Students learn about composting, embryology, and animal husbandry and hatch chickens. AgWorks staff craft lessons, videos (prerecorded or livestreamed), photos, and time-lapse videos for staff who are teaching virtually. 

A virtual Down on the Farm series included visits to local farms, highlighting the work those farmers were doing during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In addition, students have learned about and participated in field trips to wastewater treatment plants and have studied ecosystems, lake ecology, mine impacts, waste management, and alternative energy,

CCA partners with Harrisburg University to have students analyze and report their water usage and carbon footprint, using that information as a key discussion point on how they can reduce their environmental impact. 

The Harrisburg Family Service Center was able to reduce energy usage by one-third through a grant to install solar panels on the roof with a learning dashboard for students to track energy generation. The mobile aquaponic classroom also has small panels and a dashboard.

Capital Campus strives to reduce water usage and provide additional tie-ins with the grow lab. CCA installed water filling stations to reduce the use of plastic and encourage healthy lifestyle choices. 

The aquaponics lab uses 90 percent to 95 percent less water than a soil-based agricultural system. 

Students are trained to mitigate food waste, and any unused food or dead leaves are donated to two staff members who feed it to their chickens. CCA does not use pesticides; instead, it implements an IPM approach. Students are researching the installation of a compost system.

A robust wellness program, including reimbursement for gym memberships and continuing education, inspires staff to live a healthier lifestyle. All K-12 students receive a physical education kit with a variety of items to encourage them to stay healthy. 

A Community Class Reimbursement helps to offset the cost of extracurricular community classes, such as sports leagues, karate lessons, swimming lessons, and other fitness classes. 

Students have access to a Student Assistance Program, which provides support and guidance to students and families. A counseling team offers monthly lessons on a variety of mental health topics. 

CCA offers an Adventure Club and field trips that include archery, canoeing, white water rafting, zip lining, hiking, snow tubing, ice skating, horseback riding, outdoor rope courses, orienteering, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, golfing, fishing, and paintball.

Lehigh University

Lehigh University  has made tremendous strides as an institution to create a campus that merges environmentally responsible solutions with equitable community practices. One of the Lehigh’s visions is a commitment to social, environmental, and economic sustainability. 

Over the years, Lehigh has been recognized nationally for its sustainability efforts through various national rankings. Lehigh is consistently ranked in the Sierra Club’s Coolest Schools list and in The Princeton Review’s Guide to Green Schools. 

Additionally, since 2015, Lehigh has submitted a Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System report annually to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

In 2020, Lehigh adopted its Sustainability Strategic Plan 2030, which provides a long-term vision for sustainability and will improve operational efficiencies and promote cost savings. 

It encompasses six focus areas and 113 goals, with each goal aligning with one or more of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. 

This 10-year plan is intended to inspire ecologically sound, socially just, and financially prudent actions that improve the well-being of people and the environment and positions Lehigh as a local and global collaborator and leader.

This process included numerous meetings with administrative departments and colleges to establish goals and obtain buy-in. It also included a two-part series of campus workshops open to all faculty, staff, and students, as well as engagement with the City of Bethlehem and Bethlehem community. 

Additionally, an Alumni Advisory Council made up of nine alumni offered their expertise to shape the plan. Throughout the process, the Lehigh Sustainability Council (faculty, staff, students, and senior administrators) provided crucial oversight and support.

Lehigh has begun the process of creating a bold Climate Action Strategy and is currently assisting the local Bethlehem community with climate action. 

Lehigh uses the results of its annual greenhouse gas inventory to guide decisions and has implemented numerous measures to conserve energy and increase efficiency. This includes LED lighting projects and HVAC upgrades. 

Lehigh will soon be offsetting 100 percent of its electricity emissions through a combination of off-site and on-site projects, energy conservation, and renewable energy credits and is mapping out a plan to transition its vehicle and bus fleet to run exclusively on renewable energy.

Lehigh continues to make progress to reduce universitywide water usage, including process, irrigation, and potable water usage, as well as waste generated on campus. 

One prime example of a water reduction strategy that Lehigh has incorporated into the design of its new Health, Science, Technology building, the home of the new College of Health, is a rainwater reclamation system that will irrigate the green roof and indoor planters and be used for flush fixtures.

Lehigh is beginning to plant more native plants, shrubs, and trees in the areas around residence halls to improve soil regeneration and reduce excess runoff. Several lawn landscapes on Mountaintop Campus will be transitioned to native meadow landscapes in 2021.

Lehigh eliminated the use of plastic straws and Styrofoam on campus. 

Additionally, the Community Service Office holds an annual move out collection drive. This sale raises approximately $20,000 per year for the South Bethlehem community and diverts 20 tons of goods, including 1.5 tons of food, from going to waste. 

The Sustainability Strategic Plan 2030 outlines specific near-term, intermediate-term, and long-term goals for water and waste at Lehigh, including developing a broader campus zero-waste strategy that outlines a roadmap to a zero-waste campus by 2030.

In 2018, Lehigh University and the Lehigh and Northampton Transportation Authority partnered to offer free bus rides to students, faculty, and staff with a Lehigh ID. 

In 2020, Lehigh joined the EV Purchasing Collaborative to leverage the buying power of fleets to make electrification more simple, affordable, and accessible. 

In addition, Lehigh kicked off the development of an Alternative Fuel Study to develop a plan to fully transition the campus bus and vehicle fleet to run exclusively on renewable energy. 

Over the last several years, Lehigh has purchased an all-electric bus and eight hybrid/all-electric vehicles for its fleet. 

Lehigh’s Office of Sustainability applied for, and was awarded, a grant from the Department of Environmental Protection in 2020 to add two all-electric vehicles to the fleet. Additionally, four electric vehicle charging stations with two ports each have been installed across two of Lehigh’s campuses.

Lehigh has a strong commitment to health and wellness, as evidenced by the creation of the new College of Health and the inclusion of a “Health and Wellness” focus area in the Sustainability Strategic Plan 2030. 

Programs such as the Employee Wellness Program, which encourages the entire community to commit to a healthy and active lifestyle; dietician/nutrition services that include nutrition counseling and helping students create meal plans; and mental health services provide ongoing support for faculty, staff, and students.

Through Lehigh Dining and the Real Food Challenge, Lehigh students, faculty, and staff have access to food on campus that is local, organic, humane, and fair trade. 

Lehigh Dining is in the process of expanding its commitment by collaborating with the Office of Sustainability and Purchasing Services to develop the Lehigh University Sustainable and Healthful Food Purchasing Policy.

Lehigh University has an Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) office that promotes a safe and healthful environment through the development and implementation of health, safety, and regulatory compliance programs and procedures. 

This includes hazardous waste management, inspections, training sessions, and emergency response action. 

EH&S staff conduct regular trainings to raise awareness of potential issues, and they work closely with Lehigh faculty in research labs to ensure all safety procedures are followed. 

Lehigh’s cleaning vendor uses green cleaning products in alignment with Lehigh’s Sustainable Purchasing Policy.

Lehigh students are engaged in sustainability research, internships, and opportunities to use the campus as a living lab. Some of the examples include an app to help direct leftover food from campus events to hungry students, smarter trash and recycling bins to eliminate recycling contamination, and a food carbon footprint calculator for Lehigh Dining to display how carbon intensive the menu item is and to motivate sustainable food selections. 

Students present this work annually at the Lehigh Expo, a university-wide showcase of project work. 

Graduate students have worked with state and local governments to support greenhouse emissions inventories and farm to school efforts. Student sustainability competencies are assessed twice a year through a Sustainability Literacy Assessment. 

The results are reviewed, knowledge gaps are identified, and solutions to narrow those gaps are then implemented.

Each year, the Office of Sustainability and the Lehigh Sustainability Council host a sustainability curricular integration workshop. 

Additionally, in 2020, the Office of Sustainability and the Lehigh Sustainability Council developed a College Level Sustainability Framework to guide colleges in incorporating sustainability into academics, experiential learning, and research. 

In working with Library and Technology Services, a Teaching Sustainability Library Guide was also developed to assist faculty in incorporating sustainability into their classes. 

As part of Lehigh’s Climate Action Strategy development process, the Office of Sustainability, in collaboration with faculty, developed a class toolkit to assist faculty from all five colleges at Lehigh in integrating climate action into their classes. 

Lehigh also incorporated education and research opportunities into both of its off-site and on-site solar agreements.

As a premier research institution, Lehigh’s Energy Research Center finds solutions to national and global energy and energy-related problems by collaborating with federal, state, and local agencies, energy businesses, technology developers and suppliers, the research community, and academic institutions. 

Lehigh engineers are making cutting edge breakthroughs in technologies to produce green hydrogen. Lehigh’s Design lab team also took on an essential role early on during the COVID- 19 pandemic in printing 3D face shields.

Visit Lehigh University’s Sustainability webpage to learn more.

For more information on this program, visit the U.S. Department Of Education’s Green Ribbon Schools webpage.

For more environmental ed resources, visit DEP’s Environmental Education webpage.  Questions should be directed to Bert Myers, DEP Environmental Education and Information Center, call 717-772-1828 or send email to: gimyers@pa.govClick Here to sign up for the DEP Teaching Green newsletter.

(Photos: Lehigh University; Hance Elementary; Commonwealth Charter Academy.)

(Reprinted in part from the latest DEP Teaching Green newsletter.  Click Here to sign up for your own copy.

Related Article:

-- Gov. Wolf Announces $459,823 In Grants To Support Local Environmental Education Projects  Across The State 

[Posted: April 22, 2021]  PA Environment Digest

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