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Published on August 26th, 2008 | by Shirley Siluk Gregory


Back to School Week: Grade Schools Nationwide Go Green

Immanuel Giel at Wikimedia Commons under a GNU Free Documentation license.)While the greening efforts of U.S. colleges and universities seem to capture the most media attention, elementary schools across the country are no slouches when it comes to eco-action.

Look at what’s happening at some of these schools:

In Maury County, Tennessee, at least 15 district schools have started, or plan to start, recycling programs for paper, cardboard, plastic bottles, cans and more.  Their goal is to dramatically reduce the prodigious quantities of garbage schoolkids can generate: some 200 pounds of trash per child per school year, according to one estimate. Besides being good for the environment, the recycling programs benefit the schools in two ways: by reducing waste-hauling expenses and by generating extra cash through the sale of recyclable materials.

Prince George’s County in Maryland boasts the district’s first “eco-green” school: Vansville Elementary in Beltsville. The energy-efficient grade school uses geothermal energy for heating and cooling, and recycles at least 75 percent of its waste. Inside, you’ll find other green features, including urinals that don’t use water and furniture made from the trees felled to make room for the school.

Officials with the Daniel Boone School District (Reading, Pennsylvania) also had energy-efficiency in mind when they drew up plans for their newest school, Monocacy Elementary Center. The $22.5 million building, which just opened, uses geothermal energy and also draws heat from outflowing air in the ventilation system to conserve energy. The structure was also built to maximize natural lighting throughout.

In Mercer County, West Virginia, school cafeterias have switched from Styrofoam to washable and reusable trays, cups and flatware. School board meetings have gone greener too: the fat packets of paper once handed out to board members have been replaced with CDs, online forms and email memos.

St. Andrew’s School in Boca Raton, Florida, this month opened its new Moabery Early Years Learning Center, a LEED-certified addition said to be the “first¬†independent or public K-12 school registered as a LEED for Schools project in South Florida.” The building was constructed with VOC-free materials, uses a cistern to capture rainwater from the roof, features solar tubes to minimize the need for artificial lighting and provides preferred parking spaces for low-emissions and fuel-efficient cars.Keep up to date with all the hottest urban planning news by subscribing to our (free) newsletter.

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About the Author

Shirley Siluk Gregory, a transplanted Chicagoan now living in Northwest Florida, represents the progressive half of Green Options' Red, Green and Blue segment. She holds a bachelor's degree in Geological Sciences from Northwestern University but graduated in 1984, just when the market for geologists was flatter than the Florida landscape. Just as well, though: she had little interest in spending her life either in a laboratory or, heaven forbid, an oil field. So, of course, she went into journalism. After extremely low-paying but fun and educational stints at several suburban Chicago weeklies and dailies, Shirley and her then-boyfriend/now-husband Scott found themselves displaced by a media buyout and spending the next several years working as freelancers. Among their credits: The Chicago Tribune, a publication for the manufactured-housing industry, and Web Hosting Magazine, a now-defunct publication that came and went with the dotcom era. Shirley's always been concerned about nature and conservation (and an avid pack-rat, as her family can attest to), but became even more rabidly interested in the environment primarily due to two factors: the growing signs that global warming was real and threatening, and the birth of her son, Noah, in 2003. Suddenly, the prospect of a world that might not be quite as habitable in 40 or 50 years took on a whole new, and personal, meaning. Living where she lives now also helped light the fire of Shirley's environmental awareness: her hometown was severely damaged by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, and beaten up again by Hurricane Dennis in 2005. That, and the fact that she and her family were vacationing in New Orleans until the day before Katrina -- and spent 12 hours driving home for a trip that normally takes 3 -- has made Shirley deeply appreciate how fragile our lifestyles are, and how dependent they are on sound management of natural resources and sustainable living practices. That's why she's become a passionate reader and writer about all things green and sustainable.

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