September 2021 Green Strides Newsletter

Green Strides Design


          U.S. Department of Education

   Green Strides

In the September 2021 Green Strides

In the News

Ceremony 1

Honoring the 2021 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools

On Sept. 28, ED recognized 27 schools, three early learning centers, five school districts, five postsecondary institutions, as well as three state education agency officials at a Washington, D.C., ceremony for their efforts to cultivate sustainable, healthy facilities, wellness practices, and environmental and sustainability learning. "It is about creating school environments that serve each child, about advancing equity and health in places where our children spend their most formative years and about taking the second largest public infrastructure footprint in America – our school buildings – and safeguarding them for generations to come," said Deputy Secretary Cindy Marten. The event was livestreamed for those who could not attend the in-person event, which had COVID protocols in place. View video and photos from the ceremony. ED also invited the 2021 honorees to a week of “virtual sustainability chats,” each moderated by esteemed federal and national nonprofit organization colleagues working in the realm of sustainable, healthy schools, and environmental and sustainability learning.

Wrightsville Beach Elementary School Marine Science Program

Announcing the 2021 Green Strides Tour in North Carolina

Year round, ED-GRS and its Green Strides outreach initiative share promising practices and resources in the areas of safe, healthy, and sustainable schools; nutrition and fitness; and environmental education.  Each fall, we have the pleasure of visiting the school communities of past honorees and highlighting their efforts once more.  This year, the Green Strides Tour will head to North Carolina for the first time, with the theme Green Strides for All: Advancing Sustainable Schools.  Past Green Strides tours have included over 100 events in 20 states.  The 2021 tour will take place October 19-21, with past schools, districts, and postsecondary honorees in the Raleigh, Fayetteville, and Wilmington areas on three consecutive days.  Like our ceremony, this year’s tour will look a little different.  Numbers will be strictly limited to facilitate social distancing and pre-registration will be required. 

PS 90 climate change presentation

ED Releases its Climate Adaptation Plan

Executive Order 14008 directed all agencies to develop climate action plans (CAPs). This is not the first time that ED has endeavored to create a climate action, sustainability, or environmental justice plan. However, it was the first time that the group developing the CAP considered not only ED's operational footprint, but also how public-facing ED programs, guidance, policies, technical assistance, data collection, and civil rights action can be supportive of reducing the footprint of schools across the nation, improving health, increasing climate resiliency, and improving students’ environmental literacy. View the plan here.

State of Our Schools Cover

2021 State of Our Schools Published

School facilities have a direct impact on student learning, student and staff health, and school finances. However, many students attend school facilities that fall short of providing quality learning environments because essential maintenance and capital improvements are underfunded. The “2021 State of Our Schools Report” from the 21st Century School Fund, the International WELL Building Institute, and the National Council on School Facilities compiles and analyzes the best available school district data regarding U.S. PK-12 public school facilities funding. 

Aspen K-12 climate action

Aspen Institute Releases K-12 Climate Action Plan

K12 Climate Action, an initiative of the Aspen Institute, has released the “K12 Climate Action Plan.” The action plan aims to unlock the power of the K-12 public education sector to be a force for climate action, solutions, and environmental justice to help prepare children and youth to advance a more sustainable, resilient, and society. Over the past year, the K12 Climate Action Commission has heard from students, parents and caregivers, educators, school leaders, researchers, and others about how they have taken climate action in schools. Informed by those stories and focused on advancing equity, the action plan describes opportunities to reduce the environmental footprint of the sector, adapt and build resilience to climate impacts, and support teaching and learning on climate change, solutions, and sustainability. The plan outlines policy recommendations for the federal, state, and local governments to catalyze and scale climate action in the education sector.

Resources and Opportunities

Solar Decathlon

Solar Decathlon Applications Open Through Oct. 26

Are you a postsecondary student looking to make a difference in the clean energy industry? Get together a team from your school and apply now for the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon. In the 2022 Design Challenge (one-year design-only competition) or the 2023 Build Challenge (two-year design-build competition) collegiate teams will be challenged to design and build high-performance, low-carbon buildings powered by renewables. Finalist teams will be invited to vie for victory during the competition event at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado. Apply here by Oct. 26.


Recognizing Inspiring School Employees for a Second Year

Even a pandemic cannot stop the arrival of year two of the newest recognition award at the U.S. Department of Education. Designed to shine a spotlight on good work and ignite more positive contributions, while engaging state and local stakeholders, the Recognizing Inspiring School Employees (RISE) Award is kicking off its second award cycle, with nominations due to ED this fall. ED is also seeking peer reviewers to help select the single national honoree this winter. Custodial and maintenance personnel, health and nutrition workers, bus drivers, and paraprofessionals are among those education-support professionals eligible.

Air Quality Programs

Spotlight on a Resource: EPA’s Air Quality Flag Program

Every day across the U.S., flags are raised to inform students, teachers, and members of the community about their local air quality. The flag color is determined by the Air Quality Index, which changes depending on the levels of ozone and particle pollution in the air. The Air Quality Flag Program’s activity guidance shows when and how to modify outdoor activity. This guidance helps protect the health of those who are more sensitive to air pollution.

Meet the 2021 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools

Get to know the 2021 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools in our annual Highlights Report. Below, we spotlight three of the 2021 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools.

D.C. Virgo Preparatory Academy environmental learning

D.C. Virgo Preparatory Academy; Wilmington, North Carolina

D.C. Virgo Preparatory Academy (DCVPA) created a baseline greenhouse gas emission and water inventory for the 2018-2019 academic year. Instead of irrigation, the school uses two rain barrels to water the garden and landscaping. Outdoor classrooms provide the opportunity to engage all students in outdoors learning. A student-led fourth and fifth grade recycling initiative at DCVPA involves collaboration with the University of North Carolina – Wilmington (UNCW). The assistant principal provides weekly composting instruction to fourth grade students; the program allows cafeteria food waste to be redirected to a collaborative composting facility. The school is home to an on-site health clinic. Schoolwide daily morning meetings are focused on social-emotional learning. An Action-Based Learning Lab for K-3 students integrates sensory experiences, movement, and academics. UNCW sustainability peer educators provide DCVPA students with weekly presentations on various topics on sustainability. DCVPA middle grades teachers have partnered with UNCW’s MarineQuest program to construct three specialized programs for middle grade students focused on ecology, meteorology, and biotechnology through the contextual lens of marine science.

University of Wisconsin Madison

University of Wisconsin-Madison; Madison, Wisconsin

The University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) signed Second Nature’s Resilience Commitment in 2019. The university is a Sustainability Tracking Assessment & Rating System Silver rated institution and is listed in the Sierra Club Guide to Cool Schools and Princeton Review Guide to Green Colleges every year. UW-Madison has documented a 38% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions and a 20% decrease in potable water consumption over 10 years, even while increasing gross square footage of building space by 18.5% and seeing the campus population  increase by 7%. From 2007 to 2018, the university reduced total waste by 13% per campus user, and in 2018 diverted 43% of campus waste from the landfill. Efforts encompass surplus procurement; using food waste to make compost, liquid fertilizer, and biogas; and recycling. UW-Madison offers 16,000+ bike parking spots, a bicycle resource center for repairs, and bicycle-related classes, yielding a platinum-level bike friendliness rating from the League of American Bicyclists. The Campus Food Shed distributes fresh produce that would otherwise be thrown away to several fridges located across campus to be accessed by anyone in the community. The Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies is host to interdisciplinary programs and research that help to solve challenging environmental issues while also training leaders and innovators. The environmental studies major offers an interdisciplinary curriculum that spans all contemporary disciplines that touch upon the environment. The Environmental Studies Certificate program offers a unique opportunity for undergraduate students to broaden their studies through interdisciplinary coursework related to the environment. The Sustainability Certificate offers students the opportunity to pursue sustainability interests that complement their major(s).

Tuscaloosa fun run for libraries

Tuscaloosa City Schools; Tuscaloosa, Alabama

In 2018, the Tuscaloosa City Schools (TCS) Strategic Plan was updated to focus on curriculum, human resources, and construction — specifically providing facilities that serve as optimal learning environments. Beginning in 2017, buildings were renovated or rebuilt with design plans to increase the system’s energy efficiency and sustainability. The plan allowed for five schools to be completely rebuilt and 11 schools renovated using more environmentally sustainable practices and materials. TCS has worked to use outdoor learning, taking advantage of such elements as forests, embankments for amphitheater-type seating, shade trees, gardens, ponds, animal habitats, and bringing in picnic tables and other seating. A partnership with Schoolyard Roots teaches students about organic gardening, composting, rain barrels, and farm-to-table practices. Students in the Tuscaloosa Career & Technology aquaculture program gain hands-on experience with aquatic nutrition, fish reproduction, hydroponic design, and management. Students maintain an indoor hydroponics garden that houses approximately 900 plants as well as an 8,000-gallon aquaculture system that holds 400 koi fish with plans to experiment with fish, such as tilapia and catfish, that can be used as food.


Green Strides Design

Take Advantage of the Ongoing Green Strides Webinar Series 

The Green Strides Webinar Series has promoted over 2,400 sessions that provide free tools to reduce schools’ environmental impact and costs, improve health and wellness, and teach effective environmental education. Below is a handful of them. Consult the webinar calendar for additional webinars related to school, district, and postsecondary sustainability. (Note: All times listed are ET.)

September 29, 6–7 p.m. Our Climate is Changing and NASA is on Top of It! (NASA)

September 30, 12:30–3 p.m. Conversations on Race and Environment (NAAEE)

October 1, 3–4:30 p.m. Grass, Dirt and Concrete:  Engaging Preschoolers in Outdoor Settings (Natural Start Alliance)

October 4, 4:30–5:30 p.m. Bringing NASA into the Classroom (NASA)

October 6, 7:30–8:30 p.m. Harnessing Hydroponics:  A Case for a System in Every Classroom (Green Teacher)

October 8, 2–3 p.m. School Building Science:  Ventilation and What You Need to Know (CHPS)

October 11, 1–2 p.m. The Role of Role Models in STEM Education (NASA)

October 11, 4:30–5:30 p.m. Explore Earth Systems:  Leaf Litter Ecology (NASA)

October 12, 1–2:15 p.m.  Portfolio Manager 101 (EPA)

October 14, 1–2:15 p.m.  Technology-Based Solutions for Remote Energy Management (EPA)

October 19, 1–2 p.m.  Portfolio Manager 201 (EPA)

October 20, 12–1 p.m.  Portfolio Manager – Ask the Expert (EPA)

October 20, 2–3 p.m.  How to Make Water Efficiency as Routine as Recycling (EPA)

October 20, 7:30–8:30 p.m. Teaching Energy Transition (Green Teacher)

October 21, 2–3 p.m. Integrating Reduction and Reuse into Messaging (CURC)

October 26, 1–2 p.m.  Portfolio Manager 301 (EPA)


Farm fresh food

October Is National Farm to School Month …

National Farm to School Month was designated by Congress to symbolize the growing importance of farm-to-school programs as a means to improve child nutrition, support local economies, and educate children about the origins of food. The National Farm to School Network has developed resources and activities to promote Farm to School Month in schools, communities, and media outlets.

Southeastern Louisiana University windmill

… And Also Campus Sustainability Month

Campus Sustainability Month is a celebration of sustainability in higher education. During October, colleges and universities organize events on campus and elsewhere to engage and inspire incoming students and other campus stakeholders to become sustainability change agents. Events include teach-ins, sustainability pledge drives, zero energy-concerts, waste audits, green sporting events, letter-writing campaigns, and service projects.

Sunrise School bee keeping

As students at Sunrise Elementary School, a 2020 ED-GRS honoree, engaged in gardening, their awareness of the critical issues affecting pollinators was heightened. Two beehives have been installed in the outdoor learning environment in DeSoto, Missouri, and students maintain the hives, extract honey, and sell it to the community.

Connect With Green Strides

Green Strides: Resources for School Facilities, Health, and Environment
U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools
Facebook: @EDGreenRibbonSchools
Twitter: @EDGreenRibbon
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