Trends in Green


Schools get wrapped up in green ribbon recognition.

From the hills of Appalachia to the streets of Los Angeles, U.S. Department of Education officials have been touring the country, learning what healthy, green, high-performance schools look like across America. This tour gets at the heart of the goals of the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) recognition award — to provide national models for how green schools can be implemented.

“We want to get the word out about what works in these schools. They are resourceful, have great partnerships and are using cutting-edge educational practices,” said Andrea Falken, director of the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools Program.

We’ll have to wait six more months until Earth Day to find out who will be named as a Green Ribbon School in 2014. But right now, schools and districts around the country are busy developing their case for why they should be one of the elite few recognized for this federal award.

Though there is no money associated with the award, states have seen wide voluntary participation in the program since its inception three years ago.

Public and private schools must be nominated by their state education agency. The agencies then evaluate the applications based on their achievement of the three pillars of the ED-GRS program: reducing environmental impact and costs; improving health and wellness; and providing effective environmental and sustainability education.

So what should schools and districts focus on as they pull together their award applications? Showing off the breadth and depth of their programs. “The strongest applications have significant achievements in all three pillars,” says Taylor.

Quincy High School, part of Plumas Unified School District, in Massachusetts, certainly exemplifies the multi-pillar approach. It was one of 64 schools recognized last year. The new high school was certified as a CHPS Verified School in 2010. One of the challenges for the project was that it had to be designed as an in-fill project adjacent to an existing — and much loved — administration building that dates to the 1920s.

The goal of the new school was to better integrate the academic and vocational trade school facilities, as well as offer state-of-the-art sustainable systems, like photovoltaic and solar thermal systems to provide extensive learning opportunities for students and prepare them for jobs in a green economy. “The solar photovoltaic and solar thermal systems, known as the renewable garden, provide hands-on opportunities for students to learn about designing and maintaining renewable energy systems,” says Carolyn Day, AIA, LEED-AP BD+C, who served as the sustainable design coordinator from Symmes Maini & McKee Associates, the firm that designed the school.

In addition, smart joint use design allowed for the school to create a public space to showcase their culinary program, which helps to fulfill the health and nutrition aspect of ED-GRS Pillar 2. “The Café was designed to be a space to share with and teach the public. The greenhouse on the roof teaches students to grow food on-site to be used in the restaurant, and much of the rest is responsibly sourced. The students prepare healthy food and serve it to the community on a daily basis,” says Day.

In addition to embracing each pillar, schools that have internalized high-performance strategies are the most likely to score well, said Taylor. “The most successful schools have made it a school culture, not just one person championing a personal endeavor.”

The Providence Career and Technical Academy (PCTA), part of the Providence Public Schools, has made high performance, green strategies a way of life for students while they are in school and beyond. According to Joseph da Silva, the program administrator for the Green Ribbon Schools program in Rhode Island, PCTA stands out because of “how they infuse sustainability concepts into the career tech strands. Green Ribbons schools aren’t just about one thing. PCTA successfully integrates environmental literacy, healthy indoor environments and green facilities towards maximizing educational opportunities for its students.”

PCTA, which met the Northeast CHPS Criteria for its renovation of the campus, is notable for its onsite energy general and comprehensive recycling program, which includes using the recycled motor oil, cooking oil and sawdust from the technical classes. In addition, in each of the five construction-based career-technical programs in the school, students focus on green building technologies.

Thirty-eight states and the District of Columbia have declared their intention to nominate schools for the 2013-2014 application cycle. Most states have applications deadlines by the end of the year. You can learn more about the federal ED-GRS program by visiting

This article originally appeared in the School Planning & Management November 2013 issue of Spaces4Learning.

About the Author

Ariel Dekovic is the Senior Programs manager for The Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS). She can be contacted at [email protected].