Last month for an Education Week blog, Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching Program participant Michael Cruse, a special educator from Arlington, Virginia, talked about his travels to Israel to study different models for green schools.

The highlights of his visit included these four stops around the country:

  • The Bat Yam Farm for Agriculture and Environmental Education in urban Tel Aviv, a working farm run by students, teachers, volunteers, and young adults.
  • The Afek School — a school that teaches elementary students to become citizen scientists by recording and tracking climate data for professional scientists.
  • The Ecological Greenhouse in Kibbutz Ein-Shemer, a research center with a focus on addressing Israel’s needs as a result of population growth.
  • The Environmental High School, a residential school located on the Negev desert plateau with a mission of providing students direct contact with nature, and the resources to learn to care for it.

Cruse’s biggest takeaway from his Middle East experience that he would apply to American schools was this, "Since coming back to work at my school and reflecting on how my experiences in Israel translate into my teaching, I realized that the best lessons about sustainability are actually about people. That can be in their classroom, on the playground, at home, or in the community."

There is great work happening on this front in the United States that schools can get involved in.

One way the federal government advances this work is through the Green Ribbon Schools award, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education.

According to its website, the award is meant to "inspire schools, districts and Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs) to strive for 21st century excellence by highlighting promising practices and resources that all can employ."

Recognition is given to schools that exemplify the following goals and objectives:

  • Reduce environmental impact and costs;
  • Improve the health and wellness of schools, students, and staff; and
  • Provide effective environmental and sustainability education.

Schools looking for resources to start thinking about ways their school can go green should start by reviewing website resources from the Center for Green Schools. The Center offers a variety of articles, tools, programs, and resource guides to help school boards, principals, teachers, and students kick-start green initiatives in their school communities. Some of the highlights include:

Green Apple Day of Service

Schools are encouraged to engage in a large-scale community service project. By applying for this program, the school gains access to planning tools, local volunteers, and mini-grants to boost their fundraising for their project. Schools can celebrate their work using the hashtag #GreenApplyDay

The Arc Platform

According to their website, this digital platform “helps schools and other buildings track, benchmark, and communicate sustainability metrics, including energy, water, waste, transportation, and air quality.”

The Center goes on the suggest that its platform can be used as a teaching opportunity “to make student action come alive through visible and tangible results.”

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED System

LEED is a rating system that tracks to what degree schools have met their green goals. LEED can be used at all phases of operation and construction, including new school construction, renovation, or day-to-day operations.

Green Certification Program

The Center offers a Green Classroom Professional Certificate. Through a series of 12 self-guided online modules, educators gain the knowledge to identify what supports or impedes healthy, resource-efficient and environmentally sustainable learning spaces.

Learning Lab

At this website, the Center offers a variety of hands-on activities and lessons to help teachers in all grade levels engage in sustainability lessons with their students.

As a school principal, what can you do to advance green initiatives in your school community?