Savannah Country Day School in Georgia was named the nation’s first Green Flag Eco-School in a ceremony yesterday, signifying exceptional achievement in ‘greening’ school grounds, operations and curricula. The school achieved this honor through a combination of excellence by “green” management of its facilities and grounds, providing opportunities for outdoor education and by integrating environmental learning throughout its curricula.
The Eco-Schools USA program, which is hosted by National Wildlife Federation, counts nearly 500 schools and some 205,000 students among its participants, but none has achieved the program’s highest honor, the Green Flag, until now.
“The Green Flag is special – and only awarded to those schools who have demonstrated a commitment to environmental sustainability and increasing environmental literacy for its students, faculty, and wider school community,” said Laura Hickey, Senior Director of Eco-Schools USA, on hand for the official flag-raising.
Also in attendance for the event were the City of Savannah’s Mayor Pro Tem, Edna Jackson, and Environmental Affairs Officer Laura Walker. Jackson congratulated the school and thanked cheering students and staff for helping to make Savannah a “Green City.”
To win the first Green Flag, Savannah Country Day School, which completed a Silver LEED-certified lower school building in 2008, tackled a variety of sustainability projects, including lunchroom recycling and composting programs, a well-tended vegetable garden, environmental current events coursework and school-supported ‘outdoor classroom time.’ This was in keeping with Eco-Schools USA’s uniquely holistic approach—‘greening’ the school building, the school grounds and the student curriculum and experience.
Hickey’s official certification tour of the school included a visit to the previously-certified NWF Schoolyard Habitat and a demonstration of cistern use and garden upkeep by a student Eco-Action Team, but ‘green living isn’t limited to a select group—or grade—of students at Savannah Country Day.
In kindergarten, students tend to a natural herb garden, moving on to a fruit orchard in first grade. Second-graders study monarch butterfly eggs, and third-graders take care of a full organic vegetable garden. The entire school supports composting of pre-consumer waste and participates in a “green hour” program allowing children to be outside every week for instruction time (in addition to recess).
Among the more unique elements of sustainable life at Savannah Country Day School is lunchtime, which goes well beyond the usual tater-tots and milk cartons: produce from the school garden is regularly prepared and served to students in the dining hall, with dishes containing it identified with a “From Here” label. The school chef often creates a display of garden vegetables to entice youngsters to try them, and local food vendors are celebrated with “Meet the Farmer” signage. All kitchen scraps and food waste are added to the school’s compost pile. The school’s dining program is managed by SAGE Dining Services.
Many schools have implemented the Eco-Schools USA program, some earning Bronze- and Silver-level awards for their progress (Georgia alone boasts 14 Eco-Schools). The heretofore unclaimed Green Flag requires a rigorous combination of environmental audits, curriculum reinvention and internal and external monitoring.
The program is designed to help schools in a variety of ways, including saving money, reducing waste and improving student academic performance and environmental awareness (more benefits listed here). Once a school has registered and implemented the Seven Steps of the program, it can apply for an Eco-Schools award. A school is considered to be a permanent Eco-School once it has gained its fourth Green Flag.
The Eco-Schools program is an international network of 38,000 K-12 schools in 51 countries, started in 1994 by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) with support by the European Commission. It was named by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) as a model initiative for Education for Sustainable Development in 2003. NWF was named the stateside host in 2008, thus formally launching Eco-Schools USA.
The award came just days after the U.S. Department of Education announced the creation of the Green Ribbon Schools program, which will similarly recognize schools that have taken great strides in greening their curricula, buildings, school grounds and overall building operations. That program, which is to be modeled on the nearly 30-year-old Blue Ribbon Schools program that recognizes schools whose student bodies have displayed high academic achievement or improvement, will help establish guidelines for overall sustainability in American schools. NWF and other organizations had pushed for the implementation of that program for the past year.
“American schools already led the way on innovation,” said Kevin Coyle, Vice President for Education and Training at NWF. “Now, in addition to revamping their buildings and grounds, they are increasingly setting a high standard for sustainability education and becoming truly green.”