February 2023 Newsletter

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Infrastructure and Sustainability Updates from the U.S. Department of Education

The U.S. Department of Education (ED or the Department) developed this newsletter to provide resources, promote events, and share inspiring stories of school sustainability. The Department also maintains resources on the Green Strides School Sustainability Resource Hub, including upcoming webinars and information on U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools honorees. 

In this issue:

In the News

Infrastructure and Sustainability Commitments

Make a School Infrastructure and Sustainability Commitment Today!

The Department invites national, regional, and local non-profits, foundations, businesses, and community-based organizations to share your bold commitment(s) to advance school sustainability, encompassing infrastructure, health, environmental sustainability education, climate, and environmental justice in America.  Please share how your organization or entity will advance at least one of these Infrastructure and Sustainability priorities:

  • Priority #1: Ensure equitable access to healthy, safe, sustainable, 21st century physical learning environments.
  • Priority #2: Develop, maintain, and provide environmental sustainability learning, such as climate literacy, green workforce development, and outdoor learning.
  • Priority #3: Build capacity for infrastructure, sustainability, environmental justice, and climate mitigation and adaptation in schools.

Those making commitments are encouraged to address at least one of the following parameters in their commitment submission:

  • Environmental Justice: How does your commitment account for and take actions to promote environmental justice, so that all students have equitable access to safe, healthy, sustainable, and modern school environments and engaging environmental sustainability education?
  • Health: How does this work ensure access to sustainable school buildings and grounds that are healthy environments for learning?
  • Climate Action: How does this effort help education leaders understand their role and act on climate issues, including mitigation, adaptation, and climate education?
  • Capacity Building: How does this work build school district and state education agency capacity to continuously improve school environments and environmental sustainability learning? 
  • Data Collection and Standardization: How will your commitment advance data collection and standardization on infrastructure and sustainability, with a view toward informed and equitable policymaking?
  • Transparency and Goal-Setting: How do you plan to achieve the outcomes? What is the unit of change, and why do you think your approach will work?

Complete the online form to register your commitment by May 31.

2022 Directors Award Recipient Jon Long and Deputy Secretary Cindy Marten

The 2023 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools Director’s Award: Nominations Due March 1

The Director’s Award recognizes state education authorities’ exemplary efforts to administer U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS). Annually, the Director’s Award goes to the state education official who does the most to advance sustainable education in his or her state. If you wish to nominate a state education official, please send your nomination letter to ed.green.ribbon.schools@ed.gov by March 1. Any state education official who is involved in implementing the ED-GRS award and who has not already won the Director’s Award is eligible for nomination. Read about the work of past ED-GRS Director’s Award recipients

Undaunted K12 Logo with Tagline

New Report: HVAC Choices for Student Health and Learning

There is robust evidence that heating, cooling, and ventilation (HVAC) systems are critical to supporting student health and learning, and our climate. This UndauntedK12 and Rocky Mountain Institute report makes the case for a transition to all-electric, high-performance HVAC systems in schools. It provides: 1) an overview of research that connects HVAC systems to health and learning, 2) concepts related to school HVAC technology options including an original analysis profiling HVAC systems in K-12 schools nationwide, 3) an overview of the benefits of all-electric, high-performance systems, 4) a framework for evaluating costs, and various approaches to funding these investments, and 5) a spotlight on how HVAC systems can be a factor in promoting equity. 

Resources and Opportunities

EPA Logo

EPA Announces Environmental Justice Grants

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the availability of approximately $100 million for projects that advance environmental justice in underserved and overburdened communities across the country. This funding, made possible through the Inflation Reduction Act, marks the largest amount of environmental justice grant funding ever offered by the Agency. State and local governments, including school districts, are eligible to apply to the Environmental Justice Government-to-Government (EJG2G) Program, and must partner with a community-based organization to apply for the Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem Solving (EJCPS) Program. Priorities for both programs include addressing climate change, benefitting rural areas, and conducting health impact assessments. Applications are due April 10.

World of 8 Billion Logo

World of 8 Billion Student Video Contest

Through the World of 8 Billion student video contest, middle and high school students are given a platform to think critically about global challenges related to population and to share solutions. Students explain how population growth impacts the global topics of climate change, gender equality, or waste and offer an idea for a sustainable solution. More than 80 students will be awarded cash prizes of up to $1,200. The deadline to submit is Feb. 22.


Spotlight on a Resource: New Indoor Air Sensor Technology Guidance Available

Advances in air sensor technology and its availability in the consumer marketplace are changing the landscape of indoor air quality management. Learn more about this technology by reviewing EPA’s consumer guidance on air sensor technology and indoor air quality and low-cost air pollution monitors and indoor air quality. This guidance was developed to help users better understand air sensor technology and the indoor use of low-cost air pollution monitors. Learn more about the three basic strategies for improving indoor air quality and reducing contaminant levels indoors: source control, ventilation, and supplemental filtration and air cleaning. Visit EPA’s indoor air quality website where you will find links to many other indoor air quality topics

Meet the 2022 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools

Below, we spotlight three of the 2022 ED-GRS honorees. Get to know all of the 2022 honorees in our annual Highlights Report and website.

John B. Cary Elementary School garden

John B. Cary Elementary School; Richmond, Virginia 

Less than one mile from the James River in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, John B. Cary Elementary School (Cary) has been named a “RiverWise School,” for its environmental education achievements. Cary’s interdisciplinary program highlights students’ relationship to the bay and environmental justice issues. Its “No Child Left Inside Eco-Campus” encompasses community gardens and a reforestation project that boasts 15,000 square feet of planted area, including 187 native plants, 53 shrubs, 16 trees, and a pollinator garden. Students use the grounds for STEM, art, citizen science, and social-emotional learning during the school day and for gardening, orienteering, biking, and running clubs after school. Cary uses conservation technologies, such as automatic water and lighting shutoff, new boilers, chillers, control systems, water bottle filling stations, and LED lights. It features recycling and composting, the latter of which is then used in the school gardens. The school and its district have improved air quality and contaminant controls through training, regular maintenance, and ongoing monitoring. Cary partners with Greater Richmond Fit4Kids in the Safe Routes to School for five crossing guards to assist students who walk or bike to school and to participate in annual walk and bike to school days. Students develop social-emotional competencies through community circles and a mindfulness room.

Escuela Verde field research

Escuela Verde; Milwaukee, Wisconsin 

Escuela Verde is a school founded on ecopedagogy that is constantly striving to live out a vision of creating a just, peaceful, and sustainable future. As a project-based learning school, students explore how science and ecology connect to many other domains. Students choose a topic for their senior thesis projects that they are passionate about and complete a yearlong, 300-hour project. Recent topics have involved leading nature hikes and forest bathing; improving health and well-being through biking, camping, mindfulness, and art therapy; organizing neighborhood cleanups; building a chimney swift tower; and distributing bird houses. In 2017, Escuela Verde joined the Milwaukee Better Buildings Challenge and received an energy score of 94. The school has energy efficient windows, lighting, and heating/cooling systems. The school also installed a solar voltaic array on the roof, which offsets about 32% of the school’s electrical use. Students were directly involved in the research and installation of the panels and monitor the system. The school’s emphasis on food and food justice has led to an entirely vegetarian school lunch. Efforts to reduce waste include composting and the use of cloth towels and mops rather than paper towels. Escuela Verde’s guiding curriculum is based on sustainability themes, which have been adapted from The Cloud Institute’s Education for Sustainability Standards & Indicators. Each quarter, the advisory curriculum is rooted in one of these sustainability themes. Each winter, staff and students travel to the northern part of the state for a weeklong retreat in which students engage in place-based environmental education, including science content, snowshoeing, skiing, and shelter building. In the spring, students participate in a service-learning week, which often includes outside activities, such as invasive species removal or improving the native plant garden and other spaces. At the end of each year, the school offers a weeklong camping trip to a Wisconsin state park. 

Ascension school composting

Ascension School; Louisville, Kentucky 

Ascension School (Ascension) serves 233 students in prekindergarten through eighth grade. In 2016, Ascension became the first Catholic school in Kentucky to train every faculty member in project-based learning, and the faculty work collaboratively on cross-curricular projects, including planting and maintaining a school garden, composting, and global classrooms. The school installed efficient windows, touchless sink faucets, and water bottle filling stations and encourages students to bring their reusable water bottles to school. The cafeteria uses washable trays, dishes, and utensils to cut down on waste. Eighth grade students are responsible for promoting an idle-free campus. Ascension uses the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child model to ensure students’ physical and mental health needs are met through physical activity, mindfulness exercises, and school counselor services. At Ascension’s “Farm to Tray Café,” selections are prepared using fresh ingredients, some from the school garden. Ascension partnered with Louisville Nature Center to establish a certified Monarch Butterfly Waystation, which is used to offer lessons on pollinators and butterfly life cycles. The school participates in a Journey North Tulip Test Gardens to track the life cycle of tulips and learn about the importance of soil conditions. Through a generous donation, Ascension obtained a beehive and will train middle school students on maintaining it. An after-school Green Club weeds the butterfly garden, assesses how many classroom lights are left on, and collects litter around campus. 


Green Strides Design

Take Advantage of the Ongoing Green Strides Webinar Series 

The Green Strides Webinar Series has promoted over 3,500 sessions that provide free tools to reduce schools’ environmental impact and costs, improve health and wellness, and teach effective environmental education. Consult the webinar calendar, and submit suggestions for listing additional free, publicly-available webinars related to school, district, and postsecondary sustainability to ed.green.ribbon.schools@ed.gov. (Note: All times listed are ET.)

Feb. 7, 1–2:15 p.m. Portfolio Manager 101 (EPA)

Feb. 9, 1–2:15 p.m. Portfolio Manager 201 (EPA)

Feb. 14, 1–2:15 p.m. Portfolio Manager 301 (EPA)

Feb. 15, 12–1 p.m. Portfolio Manager – Ask the Expert (EPA)

Feb. 16, 2–3 p.m. Academic Collaborations for Sustainable Operations (AASHE)


Green Schools Conference 2023

Attend the Green Schools Conference

The Green Schools Conference will be held Feb. 27-March 1, 2023, at the Sheraton New Orleans. This event brings together all the players involved in making green schools a reality: people who lead, operate, build, and teach in schools. Designed to educate, connect, and inspire, attendees of the three-day, in-person conference will explore interdisciplinary content during general sessions, while also having dedicated time with peers to work through specific challenges, share best practices, and generate momentum to further green school actions across the country. The 2023 program will address topics including environmental impact, health and well-being, sustainability literacy, equity, and whole school sustainability. The conference will also be an opportunity to connect with representatives of ED-GRS!

Greenbuild 2023 Save the Date

Save the Date: Greenbuild International Conference and Expo

Save the date for Greenbuild 2023, to be held at the Washington, D.C. Convention Center Sept. 26-29. Greenbuild is the world's largest conference and expo dedicated to green building, bringing together industry leaders, experts and frontline professionals dedicated to sustainable building. It will feature an education track.

Mesa Elementary Snowshoe

At Mesa Elementary School, a 2014 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School in the Montezuma-Cortez School District of Colorado, students routinely visit Crow Canyon and Mesa Verde recreation areas to hike, explore, and extend their classroom lessons of anthropology, archeology, and conservation.