Top 3 Green Schools in America

Lily is a 5th grade student at Great Seneca Creek Elementary School in Montgomery County, Maryland. She knows a lot about what it means to go to a green school and has her own YouTube video extolling Seneca Creek School’s large windows, low-flow faucets, recycled construction materials and clean air environment. According to Lily, attending a green school makes learning more fun.

Across the country, parents, educators and students like Lily are recognizing the value of green schools as a means of protecting the health and well-being of both children and the environment. Research has shown that eco-friendly schools are healthier, more sustainable and less costly to operate. They also are more comfortable for students and more conducive to learning.

In April of 2011, a tree planting ceremony was held in Washington, D.C. to commemorate the launch of the U.S. Department of Education’s Green Ribbon Schools program. Similar to the 30-year-old Blue Ribbon Schools program that rewards academic achievement, the Green Ribbon Schools program will recognize schools that have made the greatest strides in greening their grounds, buildings, operations and curricula. It encourages schools to cut energy and building expenses and to channel the savings into educating students about the environment.

The Green Ribbon Schools program’s steering committee includes the U.S. Green Building Council and the National Wildlife Federation.  The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is one of the leaders in the field of green schools. This private non-profit trade organization has more than 16,000 member companies representing every sector of the building industry. Since 2000, USGBC has used its LEED (Leader in Energy and Environmental Design) certification program to recognize eco-friendly and sustainable building design and construction.

These are some of the top-ranked LEED schools in America and are likely to be early recipients of the new Green Ribbon Schools award:

1. Sidwell Friends Middle School, Washington, D.C.


When this private pre-K through 12th grade school needed a new middle school facility, a 55-year-old building was renovated and new addition added using principles of green construction. Water management is one of the most important aspects of the school’s green design. Kitchen waste water is treated in an onsite wetland area and recycled back through bathroom toilets. Students grow vegetables and herbs in roof-top gardens using captured rainwater. Sidwell Friends Middle School realized a 90% reduction in municipal water use and consumes 60% less energy than conventional schools.

2. Rosa Parks Elementary School, Portland, Oregon

Constructed in 2006 for 500 K – 6 students, this urban elementary school provides bike racks and showers to encourage staff members to commute by bicycle. The grounds are planted with native, drought-tolerant vegetation. Inside the school, skylights, operable windows and an energy-efficient gas boiler reduce heating and cooling costs. The school uses 24% less energy than comparable non-green schools. During construction, special care was taken to choose materials with low levels of chemical emissions and carbon monoxide monitors were installed in each classroom, giving Rosa Parks Elementary School a high rating for its indoor air quality.

3. Fossil Ridge High School, Fort Collins, Colorado

Built with tight budget restrictions, this 1,800-student campus cost about the same as similar schools of its size but its energy costs are about 30% less. Natural lighting is used throughout, a design feature which is also credited with improving student math and reading test scores. Water conservation is required in the area, so a raw water pond is used for campus irrigation, the athletic field has artificial turf, and low-flow toilets and faucets were installed in all the bathrooms. The $11,500 that is saved annually in water costs can be used to benefit students in the classroom.

Existing schools that are not undergoing construction can also improve their environmental footprint.  The National Wildlife Federation has an Eco-Schools program that helps schools conduct an environmental audit and develop an eco-action plan to help reduce energy consumption, water usage and waste. Schools are also encouraged to link environmental issues to their curriculum and to provide more outdoor time for students. According to Larry Schweiger, National Wildlife Federation president and CEO, over the past 15 years the non-profit organization has helped more than 4,000 schools “go green.”

For more information on how you can make your own classroom greener, click here.

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