An A for Environmental Effort

Public schools are greening their curricula and teaching environmental literacy

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Gwenda Kaczor / www.gwenda.com

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Our elementary-school teachers instilled certain fundamental lessons—don’t run in the hall, don’t stick gum under your desk—in all of us. Now they’re making sure our kids don’t disrespect the planet.  

Advocates of a new crusade to bring environmental literacy to public schools want students to better understand green issues and their personal relationship to the natural world, reports Governing (March 2011). Part of the movement’s philosophy is to take kids out of the classroom and into nature, where they can observe bird migrations, collect soil samples, and enjoy hands-on learning. Environmental literacy planning is already under way in 47 states. And a federal bill dubbed No Child Left Inside, introduced in the last two legislative sessions by Maryland Representative John Sarbanes and Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed, would contribute $100 million annually to the cause.  

While critics claim that an eco-friendly curriculum is nothing but left-wing folly, supporters say the program has unmistakable benefits: increasing math and science skills, lowering obesity rates, exposing urban students to the natural world, and fostering a steadfast regard for Mother Earth.  

In addition to greening curriculums, some schools are also greening their facilities, says Jonathan Hiskes in Sustainable Industries (March-April 2011). The movement is driven by rising energy costs, perhaps more than by environmental responsibility, and proponents assure taxpayers that spending now will save money later.  

Energy-saving features in renovated schools include solar panels, high-efficiency heating and cooling equipment, floor plans that take advantage of natural sunlight, and a red light/green light system that cues teachers to open or close windows.  

Funding for these construction projects is available in some states, including California, whose Energy Efficiency Financing program provides loans up to $3 million.

Beyond improving energy output, greener schools may improve students’ health and academic performance. Studies show that poor indoor air quality from elevated mold levels and toxic cleaning supplies affects student attendance and test-taking success. Even too-hot or too-cold rooms can lower test scores.  

“It’s a great approach,” Washington principal Victor Scarpelli tells Hiskes. “We can invest in teachers and resources and [give] our children the best education possible.”

cover-166-thumbnailHave something to say? Send a letter to editor@utne.com. This article first appeared in the July-August 2011 issue of Utne Reader