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Growing Connections: Formal and Informal Environmental Education in the Bay Area

Anticipating the release of my second book, Greening America's Schools 2.0, in February at the National Association of Independent Schools Annual Conference in Philadelphia, I have begun a long-term research project to evaluate the state of environmental and sustainability education in Bay Area private schools.  This study especially seeks to understand the connections between the formal, K-12 green schools efforts and the invaluable education that is offered by a network of informal environmental education institutions.  It is my hope that the research will enable us to grow stronger connections between the two communities here in California, and in so doing suggest best practices for regional associations around the country.  The report is due out in late spring.


Growing Connections:  The Link Between California Private Schools and Informal Environmental Education

Globally Green: The East-West Center and ASEAN


Leading Green:  Shaping Sustainable Schools and Communities

After speaking with a group of environmental educators in January at the Punahou School, I received an invitation to help plan an innovative exchange program that would weave together two central themes articulated by the National Association of Independent Schools: global and environmental sustainability.  Namji Steinemann, Director of the AsiaPacificEd Program and Associate Director of the Education Program for the East-West Center in Honolulu, called to describe an opportunity to bring youth leaders from the Asia Pacific region to the United States for a three week program of cross-cultural, leadership, and environmental education.  Long an advocate of global education, and more recently focused on environmental sustainability issues, I quickly said yes!  The first exchange in a three-year program took place this fall and heralds an important opportunity to prepare young leaders for the coming global challenges their generation will face.

Higher Education Goes Green: Yale and Pomona

My research on K-12 green schools has convinced me that we need to forge stronger ties with the university sustainability community.  Here are two examples from the college and university world that illustrate the significant strides that are being taken.  And it is for the world of higher education, after all, that we are preparing our students.


1. Sustainable Yale: Leadership for a Greener Globe

San Francisco's Green Schools

San Francisco’s Green Schools:  Leading the Environmental Sustainability Movement

Ever since Scott McKenzie’s iconic song in the summer of 1967 urged visitors going to San Francisco to “wear some flowers in your hair,” the city has been associated with a progressive tradition that recently has enabled it to move to the forefront of the environmental sustainability movement in education.  Beginning in the 1980s, San Francisco adopted a series of ordinances to promote sustainability, from innovations like curbside recycling and bottle deposits to organic green waste diversion and a ban on plastic bags.  The city has taken seriously its goal to eliminate waste.  Shortly after the Kyoto Protocol, San Francisco declared its intention to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 20% below 1990 levels by 2020, and in 2004 the city announced its Climate Action Plan.  In this culture of environmental innovation, the San Francisco Unified School District, which educates 55,000 students in 120 schools, has developed a model green school program, one distinguished by its comprehensive nature, level of support, and documented accomplishments.

Berkeley's Green Schools

This year gave me an opportunity to study the environmental sustainability initiatives that have made my home city of Berkeley a leader.  In typical fashion for Berkeley, the schools are being greened from the ground up, though individual initiatives.  As I discovered when I became the head of the Green Team at the First Congregational Church, the city's faith-based institutions are part of that effort.  And the private schools are playing their part, including the East Bay School for Boys, which has found a new home at the Congregational Church.


1.  Berkeley’s Green Schools:  Bold Innovation

Berkeley California has long been known for embracing progressive causes, and it is no surprise that the city has gained international recognition for its significant and innovative commitment to environmental sustainability.  The City of Berkeley itself has adopted a comprehensive sustainability plan with a “zero waste” goal and has pledged to reduce its carbon footprint 80% by 2050; the University of California Berkeley is acknowledged as a sustainability leader in higher education; and farmers markets, edible gardens and urban farms abound.  In this urban hothouse of ideas and innovation, the Berkeley public schools are playing an important role in making the city greener.

Chicago's Green Schools

During a beautiful, early fall week in September, I had an opportunity to visit some of the Chicago's greenest public schools:  Peterson Elementary School, Vaughn Occupational High School, Waters Arts Magnet School, and Curie Metropolitan High School.  This was also an occasion for me to return to my alma mater, Hinsdale Central High School. And I also had a chance to visit with three independent schools that are going green: The Latin School, The University of Chicago Lab Schools, and Morgan Park Academy. I was proud of the collective sustainability initiatives underway in my native land.  


1.  Chicago Public Schools: Green Schools for a Green City

Green Ribbon Schools at NAIS in Philadelphia

At the NAIS Annual Conference in February 2013, I will host a panel presentation to recognize the eleven member schools who were named by the U.S. Department of Education as Green Ribbon Schools.  Here are profiles of three of those schools: Catlin Gabel, OR; The College School, MO; and Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, PA.


1. Catlin Gabel: A Sustainable Tradition

When I learned the news that Catlin Gabel School had been selected as one of the first recipients of the new national Green Ribbon School award this spring, I was delighted, and proud.  Since I lived in Portland and worked at Reed College in the 1970s, I have known Catlin Gabel to be one of our country’s finest, progressive K-12 independent schools.  Our family’s ties to the school are strong, too--my wife Helen, her mother, and a number of cousins, nephews, and extended family members are alums—so I was especially pleased to see Catlin Gabel recognized for its pioneering commitment to environmental sustainability.  How did it develop that tradition?

Greening America's Schools 2.0: Summer and Fall 2012

In preparation for the publication of Greening America's Schools 2.0 in Winter 2013, I continued the search for best practices across the country.  Here are profiles of five leading schools: 1. Waynflete School, ME; 2. Wilmington Friends School, DE; 3. Shipley School, PA; 4. Palmer Trinity School, FL; 5. Montgomery Bell Academy; TN.


1.  Waynflete School: Progressively Green

Founded over a century ago in a residential section of Portland, Maine, Waynflete School has grown to become a thriving, progressive Pre-K through 12 independent school for 560 students that has embraced environmental sustainability as part of its larger mission.  It has been my good fortune to know the school first-hand through the work of my friends, School Head Mark Segar and former Lower School Director Cinda Joyce.  Together they teamed up with the Waynflete community to make respect and responsibility for the environment a central element of the school’s culture.

Greening America’s Schools 2.0: Spring 2012

In my continuing journey to document success stories for Greening America’s Schools 2.0, here are four schools that represent the may varieties of schools seeking to become more sustainable: Overlake School, WA; Savannah Country Day School, CA; Montessori de Terra Linda, CA; and New Highland Academy, CA.


Overlake: A Green Ribbon School


In April 2012 The Overlake School, an independent school with 530 students in grades 5-12 in Redmond, Washington near Seattle, was named one of the country’s first Green Ribbon Schools by the U.S. Department of Education, just one of 78 nationwide and one of eleven NAIS member schools.  How does one become recognized as a high-performance, environmentally sustainable school?  In the case of Overlake, inspired leadership, consistent hard work, and a systems focus on green facilities, operations and curriculum explain how the school rose to the top of the list.

Greening America’s Schools 2.0

In February 2012 NAIS published my book, Greening America’s Schools, which featured fifty case studies of schools at various stages of becoming more environmentally sustainable.  Encouraged by the response to the book, and my belief that telling the story of private and public schools across the country that are “growing greener” will add momentum to this important movement, I have continued the journey.  Here are four “virtual visits” I conducted with NAIS schools this year: Idyllwild Arts Academy, CA; North Country School, NY; Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School, GA; and St. Gregory College Prep, AZ.  And more are on the way.


Idyllwild: The Art of Going Green


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