Leaders in sustainability

Dec. 12, 2018, 1:12 a.m. | By Shifra Dayak | 5 years, 6 months ago

MCPS and Blair's sustainability initiatives are a step in the right direction

The past few weeks have seen a renewed interest in protecting the earth. Because of major natural disasters, midterm elections and President Trump's controversial statements about climate change, sustainability has become an especially hot-button issue. But MCPS appears to be a step ahead of the organizations that recently became involved in environmental health.

MCPS has "built a world-class education for sustainability into the curriculum… in order to equip [its] students with skills, knowledge and an ethic of sustainability," according to the Board of Education. MCPS offers hands-on outdoor education, projects that help students explore the various ecosystems and classes like AP Environmental Science and Marine Biology that support environmental literacy. The many awards and accolades that MCPS has received also testify the county's commitment thus far.

MCPS and Blair's sustainability initiatives are a step in the right direction. Photo courtesy of Montgomery County Public Schools.

From 2012 to 2018, ten MCPS schools have been recognized as Green Ribbon Schools by the U.S. Department of Education. The Green Ribbon award is given to schools that reduce their environmental footprint, improve overall health and wellness and provide effective environmental education. In 2013, MCPS was one of the first 15 school districts in the entire nation to receive the U.S. Department of Education's District Sustainability Award. From reaching out to construction companies to protest hazardous building projects to creating artwork to bring awareness to pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, MCPS schools demonstrate a clear commitment to educating their students about the natural world.

At the state level, 86 MCPS schools are members of the nationally-recognized Maryland Green Schools Program run by the Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education (MAEOE), which serves to increase environmental involvement, according to MAEOE Associate Director Winny Tan. "We're focused on how we can get schools to really incorporate environmental education which can then change the culture in the schools," Tan says.

To become recognized as a Green School, a school must go through an extensive review. "It's different than other certification programs where you just do a checklist and then get an award," Tan explains. Schools that apply must demonstrate that they foster cross-curriculum environmental learning by proving that students are doing activities in at least four of seven subject areas, such as water conservation.

In fiscal year 2017, MCPS cut down greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by almost 86,500 MTCO2e (the metric ton equivalent of carbon dioxide). MCPS' purchase of renewable wind energy certificates, which accounted for a shocking 50 percent of the GHG decrease, as well as projects to update construction, energy and recycling certainly helped.

MCPS also makes sure that elementary and middle schools are home to a School Energy and Recycling Team (SERT). The SERT gives interested students opportunities to use their unique talents like drawing and public speaking to raise awareness about the importance of energy conservation and proper waste disposal.

Sustainability initiatives are not just taking place at the county level — Blair is using its diverse and motivated student population to carry out its own environmentally friendly programs. In March, the Institute for Local Self Reliance (ILSR) launched a composting program at Blair. The program, which is still in its beginning stages, caters to the local community, according to staff leader and science teacher Elizabeth Levien. "We're going to start very small… but Blair students are very excited to reach out to local businesses," she explains.

Leaders in sustainability Photo courtesy of Montgomery County Public Schools.

Levien looks forward to making the composting program more student-led and impactful. "It would be amazing, way down the line, to have more gardens where the compost is put to use and people are growing healthy foods… and eventually, expand this to other schools," she remarks.

ILSR's Brenda Platt explains that increasing composting activity could play a huge part in slowing the effects of global warming. Platt directs the Composting for Community initiative and trained Blair students on how to compost last school year. "The science around healthy soil shows that it drives down carbon from the atmosphere and sequesters carbon. It's actually one of the short-term viable solutions to reverse climate destruction," Platt says. An increase in composting can also significantly reduce methane emissions that come from landfills and increase the resilience and health of organisms, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Blair is also home to the Green Teacher certification program run by Silverlögue, the school yearbook. The initiative began last year when staffer Sadie Groberg was looking for a way to connect Silverlögue to the rest of Blair. To become certified as a Green Teacher, teachers must take a survey asking them about small classroom habits such as how often they turn the lights off and larger lifestyle choices like their mode of transportation to work. Yearbook staff then grade the teachers and award those who practice the most sustainability.

Groberg hopes to directly involve students in the program in the future. "Right now, teachers get the award and think it's cool, but no one really knows what it means. I would like if students could nominate their teachers for awards or for us to set goals for teachers," she says.

Whether through certification and awards or hands-on activities like composting or tracking everyday habits, embracing sustainability is prominent within MCPS and Blair. Together, they are forging the way through involvement and leadership in countless initiatives. And they don't plan to stop now — in the future, the county and Blair hope to put further emphasis on student leadership and keep encouraging environmentally friendly activities in an effort to continue advocating for a healthier earth.

Last updated: Dec. 12, 2018, 1:17 a.m.

Tags: SERT MCPS Blair environment sustainability Green Ribbon Schools outdoor

Shifra Dayak. Hi, I'm Shifra! If I'm not writing articles or doing homework, I'm probably making music, browsing through dog pictures, eating Thai food, or napping. More »

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