The National Wildlife Federation recently awarded eight Austin ISD schools with Eco-Schools grants that will go toward campus greening efforts.
Eco-Schools strives to make environmental awareness and action an intrinsic part of the life and culture of a school, including students, teachers, administrative staff, non-teaching staff and parents, as well as the local community. Like AISD, Eco-Schools USA works to extend learning beyond the classroom and develop responsible environmental attitudes and commitments, both at home and in the wider community.
“It is essential for students to understand how earth systems and human activities interconnect. We applaud all programs, like Eco-Schools USA, that empower students to take self-directed action while also learning content and practicing crucial skills for success,” said Dr.Pauline Dow, AISD Chief Academic Officer. “Additionally Eco-Schools USA fosters a whole child approach to teaching and learning that incorporates social/emotional learning, healthy lifestyles and mental health all of which contribute to a student’s success.”
The Eco-Schools program recognizes schools as they make progress by presenting awards for different levels of accomplishment. These awards—the Bronze, Silver, and Green Flag awards—give students, teachers, families, and entire communities an opportunity to publicly celebrate their achievements.
Blazier, Jordan, Perez, Pleasant Hill, Sunset Valley, Widen, Williams and Zavala elementary schools each earned $500 for their creative plans to make their campuses more environmentally friendly. They join Brentwood, Cunningham, Ridgetop and Rodriguez elementary schools, each of which is also actively involved in the Eco-School project.
Students and staff at Blazier Elementary School are not strangers to implementing earth-friendly programs. In addition to participating in a school-wide recycling program and cafeteria compositing, Blazier is also home to a schoolyard habitat with more than 25 garden beds, native grasses, a butterfly habitat, wildflowers and more. With the funding from Eco-Schools, Blazier will implement a water conservation program at the campus that will include rainwater collection through rain barrels and gutters. Students and community volunteers can help design, build and maintain the water conservation system through the school’s garden workdays.
Jordan Elementary School is home to a number of environmentally friendly efforts, including: recycling programs, composting, a school yard habitat, vegetable gardens and water conservation programs. For their Eco-Schools project, students and staff will install an additional outdoor classroom at their campus. Leaders at the school say they hope to install a variety of plants that increase biodiversity and attract birds, insects, lizards and other animals. Jordan already boasts one certified wildlife habitat on its grounds, and the addition of another will create even more learning opportunities for students.
Like other Eco-School campuses, Perez Elementary School also provides opportunities for students and teachers to recycle and compost on campus. Additionally, every grade is responsible for maintaining a raised bed on campus. Part of what sets Perez apart is its curriculum on sustainability. With the help of Eco-Schools, Perez will install a pond on campus that will serve as home to a variety of fish and plant life. The pond will be incorporated into class curriculum, where students will get hands-on experience learning about water ecology, aquatic ecosystems, water analysis, water conservation, fish and plant life, the impact of pollutants and more. Students will be a part of the entire process of installing the pond—from the planning stage, to implementation to, to studying the ecosystem.
Students at Pleasant Hill Elementary School have the opportunity to participate in an afterschool gardening club—a program likely to grow through the school’s partnership with Eco-Schools. For their project, Pleasant Hill plans to establish a sustainable food garden where students will learn about the impact organic soil, worms, insects, plants, irrigation and rainwater collection have on sustainable gardening.
At Sunset Valley Elementary School, students and teachers are already encouraged to recycle, but organizers at the school plan to use Eco-Schools support to launch a “Litter-less” campaign. The campaign aims to increase awareness on the impact of waste and littering and will reward classes who meet recycling goals set by the school’s student council.
Widen Elementary School’s 4H club has been instrumental in helping the school launch and maintain compositing programs as well as a schoolyard habitat and vegetable gardens. The school is hoping to expand interest in these types of initiatives by outfitting its existing schoolyard habitat with resources that will affect student learning. By installing an ecological garden with native plants and butterflies, students can enjoy participate in hands-on, project-based learning that teaches environmental sustainability.
In addition taking on many of the earth-friendly programs practiced by their Eco-Schools counterparts, teachers and students at Williams Elementary School also practice energy savings through a program known as the Green Classroom Challenge. They have also taken on a beautification project with the help of the community, where campus leaders and community volunteers planted 30 trees around the school. On the forefront of school sustainability practices, Williams will use the support of Eco-Schools to convert their courtyard into an outdoor science classroom. And beyond creating an outdoor science lab, teachers at Williams also plan to launch their own campaign to curb campus waste. Williams plans to purchase reusable bottles for students and staff to use in place of plastic bottles to help reduce the school’s carbon footprint.
Students at Zavala Elementary School have long benefited from the campuses’ schoolyard habitat, but until now, have not had the opportunity to participate in campus-wide recycling programs. The support from Eco-Schools will enable Zavala to establish school-wide recycling and composting programs.
Local organizations, like Keep Austin Beautiful, Eco-Rise Youth Innovations and the US Green Building Council have been instrumental in helping AISD Eco-Schools achieve their sustainability goals. Like these partners and the NWF, AISD is committed to researching and implementing best-practices when it comes to sustainability, whether it be through the events like the recent Environmental Stewardship Conference, or through partnerships with like-minded organizations. The district commends these schools for their willingness to go above and beyond for their students, the community and the earth.