Green Lessons From Local Schools

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Back in the day, school curricula were all about the three R's. Now, many learning institutions are shifting some of the focus to the three E's: ecology, environmental awareness and energy efficiency.

Schools in the D.C. area are no exception. Each day in classrooms and courtyards, students perform countless good deeds for the environment, from growing underwater grasses for the Chesapeake Bay to planning community-wide conservation campaigns.

We visited several local schools to find out what they could teach the rest of us about going green. Here are a few lessons we learned:

Every little bit counts. During the 2003-04 school year, students at Poolesville High School in Montgomery County were measuring energy usage and discovered that turning off computers when not in use could save the school nearly $5,000 per year. Their research led to new rules for turning on computers throughout Montgomery County public schools.

Anyone can garden just about anywhere. Most of the hands at Watkins Elementary School are tiny (it runs through fourth grade), and the campus sits amid asphalt and concrete in Southeast Washington. Yet with the help of a few dedicated adults, its students have been growing vibrant gardens there for more than a decade. Today, more than 20 themed plots in the Living Schoolyard provide classroom snacks and reduce storm-water runoff, among other uses.

Wetlands work for us. The Sidwell Friends School's environmentally friendly middle school building in Northwest arcs around a constructed wetland, which is both educational and functional. It filters the building's wastewater, which is then reused in the toilets and cooling tower. As a result, the building uses 93 percent less water than one of comparable size.

Our streams need our help. Students, staff and friends of Daniels Run Elementary School in Fairfax helped turn the stream at the edge of the school's property from troubled to vibrant by clearing invasive species, stabilizing the banks and building a special vegetated area called a riparian buffer several years ago.

-- Jenny Mayo

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