At Great Seneca Creek, Being 'Green' Is Elementary

Sunday, May 13, 2007

In many elementary schools, children learn about ecology.

At our school, Great Seneca Creek Elementary in Germantown, they live it. They are surrounded by it every school day, all day.

In their classrooms, they learn in enhanced natural light created by the sloped ceilings, large fiberglass window frames, and the layout of the school in relation to the rise and fall of the sun. Teachers in all grades work the environment-friendly design of the building into their lesson plans whenever possible.

Kindergarten and first-grade students' cubbyholes are made from wheat, not wood. So are supply cabinets in classrooms throughout the building. Use of wheatboard emphasizes to the children the importance of conserving trees.

In the bathrooms, where the partitions are made of recycled plastic, the children learn about water conservation. They use waterless urinals, dual-flush toilets, and motion-activated sinks and hand dryers.

Most of the children are aware that the heating and cooling system is geothermal, with 120 water wells running 550 feet below the playground. And using the constant underground temperature of 58 degrees to help regulate water coolant set points makes it easy to adjust the comfort level in each room, which can increase the students' focus and attentiveness.

Great Seneca Creek Elementary, which opened in September, is the first school in Maryland to be nationally certified as "green."

The school was recently awarded LEED certification with a gold rating by the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, meaning that before and during construction, extra steps were taken to conserve energy and maintain an eco-friendly learning environment.

As principal, I have witnessed and enjoyed the school's evolution from the early stages of construction through the final touches of paint. It has been the most satisfying experience of my professional career.

Initially, I didn't fully recognize the impact being green would have on learning.

I knew it was important to recycle and to educate children about the challenges our planet faces environmentally. I was also aware of the positive influence a clean, toxin-free environment can have on the people who work there. (The school's natural lighting, excellent indoor air quality, and formaldehyde-free materials and supplies instantly improved the attitudes and efforts of the children and adults inside.)

What I wasn't prepared for, and what I continue to learn from, is the powerful culture and social climate that can be built in such a school. Human beings thrive on enthusiasm, motivation and a naturally stimulating physical space in which to work. This building and the people who work and learn here provide such a stimulating physical space.

The students know they are in a special place and are better prepared to become young adults who will lead the way in conserving and harnessing natural resources. I'm excited for their future and the difference they will make in their communities and our country because of their "green" experience at Great Seneca Creek Elementary School.

-- Greg Edmundson


The writer is the principal of Great Seneca Creek Elementary School in Germantown. His e-mail address is

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