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Of course, this doesn’t mean literally painting your kid’s school green. But it does beg the question: What really is a green school? Is it a school that recycles, has an organic garden, or does it also need to have buildings that are LEED (US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified? (See sidebar, p 29.) What about providing an environmental education and models for carrying it through into behaviors in life?

Answer: All the Above. According to the Center for Ecoliteracy, “The best hope for learning to live sustainably lies in schooling that returns to the real basics: engaging with the natural world; understanding how nature sustains life; nurturing healthy communities; exploring the consequences of how we feed and provision ourselves; caring about the places where we live and the people and creatures in them.”

How to get started (not in any particular order):

1. Create a Green Team: It’s important to find teachers, parents, administrators and students who believe in the mission of sustainability. Plan to follow these steps: 1) adopt an environmental vision statement, 2) conduct a school environmental survey, 3) create a green school action plan, 4) keep track of your progress, and 5) celebrate your accomplishments.

2. Start a 3R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) program: Keep in mind that the first ‘R’ is “reduce”. This means taking actions that reduce the generation of waste. For school campuses this can mean replacing plastic water bottles with reusable ones. To cut down on paper waste, encourage your school to use electronic communication and post notices on a parent bulletin board or website. Offer to make double-sided copies for classroom work or parent newsletters. Set up a school supply ‘reuse’ station and make it available to students and teachers. By collecting and organizing supplies that are no longer needed from classrooms you can make them available to other teachers.

Unfortunately, for most schools, about half of the waste that is generated comes from the cafeteria and can include Styrofoam or paper trays, milk cartons, plastic forks and lots of food waste.

Then there’s energy waste. It takes a huge amount of resources to conduct a school energy audit, according to Shanah Trevenna, director of Hawaii’s Student Energy Ambassador Development Program. The program trains students on how to conduct energy audits of their school campus, create an action plan and take advantage of the cost savings. Learn more about SEAD and encourage students at your school to participate.

3. Build a Garden Lesson: Starting a garden, especially if you don’t have experience, might seem overwhelming. Think of a specific goal. Perhaps you would like young children to learn the nutritional benefits of eating green leafy vegetables by making green smoothies. Then find a suitable space, add compost to enrich the soil and start with just a few things that are easy to grow. It’s important to provide opportunities for the students to prepare foods from the garden “Supporting school gardens is important because we know that having kids grow and then cook these foods is the number one way to change kids eating habits,” says Dexter Koshida of the Kokua Hawaii Foundation.

And it’s fun, and builds respect for and commitment to nature.

“Gardening helps children develop a positive, personal, hands-on relationship with the earth: the soil, the bugs, the plants, etc.” says Kindergarten teacher Lydia Shigekane.

4. Compost Cafeteria and Green waste: Learn from the experts. The Green House, Waikiki Worm Company and EM Hawaii all offer workshops in composting methods for students and teachers. Many methods may be used to recycle food waste as a soil amendment.

5. Get Fresh Foods on Campus: In addition to growing a school garden, bring fresh foods from home. Team up with a local chef (The Chefs Move to Schools Program will help you get connected) or nearby restaurant and encourage them to come in and cook with the students. Encourage your school to offer fresh fruits and vegetables in the cafeteria or as a healthy snack alternative. Work on setting up a CSA delivery to the school, where parents can pick up their kids AND a box of fresh produce.

6. Have Green Fundraisers: A fundraiser that’s environmentally responsible is one that results in a positive green action. A healthy activity like running or jumping rope that’s fun for kids and results in earned money for the school is a good example. Or try the Blue Planet Foundation’s CFL exchange fundraiser. By replacing old incandescent bulbs with energy-efficient CFLs your school can earn money. Along the energy conservation line, HECO offers a Home Energy Challenge each year, where families take on the challenge of reducing their home energy use. Schools that have the greatest reduction can earn up to $12,000.

Kula Fields offers the opportunity to use their program as a fundraiser as well. Along more traditional lines, consider silent auctions with donated services rather than goods, or venues for fundraising events that support local foods and businesses.

7. Encourage Walking, Bicycling, or Carpooling to School: Begin with a “Safe Routes to School” program. If your school does not have one, work with your school administrators to create one. Identify safe routes for walking or riding to school, post the information and inform your students and families. Then encourage everyone to use the safe routes by holding a Walk or Bike to School Day. The next national event is May 9th, 2012.

8. Improve the School’s Environment: Ask your school to switch to environmentally-safe green cleaning products. These alternatives exist and are not only important for the health of children and staff, it’s now a state law. Also, ask your school administrators about following the DOE Integrated Pest Management Policy.

“Most people don’t even know the policy exists”, says DOE superintendent Keith Tomishima. “It starts with preventative maintenance. For example, by fixing windows that don’t close properly you can prevent pests from entering a building and avoid having to use harsh chemicals.”

Ask your school to implement a no-idling policy on campus and make sure drop off and pick up zones are at least 25 feet from any building windows or intake systems. This will greatly reduce the carbon dioxide emission levels students can be exposed to.

9.Incorporate Environmental Education into the Curriculum: Encourage your school to offer and support professional development opportunities in environmental education for their teachers. “Garden teachers work daily with the confluence of whole systems that occurs in the garden, they need a broad understanding of sustainable organic gardening system and how to connect core curriculum in science, literacy and nutrition into garden-based learning,” says Kohala Center’s program director Nancy Redfeather. That’s why the Kohala Center is launching a new teacher training program this June called Ku ‘Aina Pa, ‘standing firm in knowledge upon the land’.

The Center for Green Schools provides a Green Classroom Professional Certificate for teachers, parents or students. Other ideas might be to offer to make a presentation to your child’s classroom on a green topic, help to write a grant for your child’s teacher or encourage your school to take an environmental field trip. You can also be trained as volunteer to teach nutrition and gardening classes for K-6 and one of Kokua Hawaii Foundation’s ‘AINA IS schools (email [email: Kelly]).

Lastly, read and support Hawaii’s environmental literacy plan. You can download the document for free from the Hawaii Environmental Education Alliance’s website. Encourage your legislature to support green school initiatives.