April 2023 Infrastructure and Sustainability News

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April 2023

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 Resource Hub, including upcoming webinars and information on U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools honorees. 

In this issue:

In the News

Dep. Sec. 3/27/2023 Remarks

ED Deputy Secretary Addresses School Infrastructure and Sustainability at Clean Energy Schools Symposium

In a landmark keynote centered on school infrastructure and sustainability, Cindy Marten, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Education spoke to district facilities officials of Generation180's School Leadership in Clean Energy Network on March 27. School districts from across the country were represented at the event, including those from Arkansas, Virginia, Massachusetts, Washington, and California, among other states. Deputy Secretary Marten encouraged attendees to continue to raise the bar, saying, "This movement knows as well as anyone that the same isn’t good enough anymore, that our children and grandchildren deserve better." The Deputy Secretary also noted that, "We can all agree that healthy, safe, sustainable, modern learning environments are a fundamental learning resource." 

Alexandria Roe Headshot

ED Announces the 2023 Recipient of the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools Director's Award

The Director’s Award recognizes state education authorities’ efforts to administer U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS). ED is delighted to have named Alexandria (Alex) Roe, Vice President for Capital Planning and Budget of the University of Wisconsin System (UWS) the recipient of the 2023 award. Roe's leadership and dedication have been integral to ED-GRS’ postsecondary success in Wisconsin, where she established a statewide postsecondary ED-GRS nominating committee in 2015. From this structure, Roe has overseen a robust competition with a clear application process and extensive outreach to all schools in Wisconsin, regardless of affiliation. She thoroughly supports applicants, resolves questions, and provides guidance on best practices. These efforts are grounded in Roe's passion for quality educational environments, and in-depth knowledge of the programs and features of each of the universities in Wisconsin. Roe has taken the time to help each campus highlight its unique strengths and identify their impact on their environments, students, and communities. Roe has made the advancement of sustainability on Wisconsin campuses a priority, including by hiring a systemwide sustainability coordinator and ensuring that each UW-system school has a sustainability officer. Her effective communication with campus leadership has encouraged chancellors to engage in the higher education sustainability conversation with experts across their own campuses. It is not surprising then, that this enthusiasm for the award has generated friendly sustainability competition and collaboration amongst University of Wisconsin campuses and led to the most postsecondary honorees of any state.

water bottle filling station

EPA and HHS Encourage States to Use Federal Resources for Lead Detection and Mitigation in Early Care and Education Settings

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a joint letter to governors to encourage state and local governments to use federal funding to take actions to reduce and remove lead in drinking water in early care and education settings, like elementary schools and daycare facilities. States can also take administrative measures to support the health and safety of children in early care and education settings by establishing or strengthening licensing and monitoring requirements or improving blood lead screening programs. In addition, states can provide technical assistance and resources to meet lead testing and remediation requirements, including use of the EPA 3Ts (Training, Testing, and Taking Action) voluntary program to help schools and child care facilities make progress on reducing lead in drinking water. Learn more by visiting EPA WIIN Grant: Voluntary School and Child Care Lead Testing and Reduction Grant Program and HHS Strategy Resources to Support Access to Safe and Healthy Early Care and Education Facilities.

Carl Sandburg Elementary

ED Grant and Technical Assistance Center Information Coming Soon

ED is developing two small grant programs related to school infrastructure and sustainability. The first grant will be for state agencies to build their capacity to provide technical assistance to districts to make improvements to the highest-need public school facilities. The second grant will be for a national clearinghouse and technical assistance center on school infrastructure. The center will compile resources and provide technical assistance and training to states and districts on issues related to educational facility planning, design, financing, construction, improvement, operation, and maintenance. Notices Inviting Applications will be published in the Federal Register for both programs this spring, with information of their release to be shared in this newsletter.

U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools 2023 logo

2023 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools Coming Later This Month!

ED-GRS is a federal recognition award for school sustainability. By highlighting and celebrating these schools’, districts’, and postsecondary institutions’ cost-saving, health-promoting, and performance-enhancing sustainability practices, ED-GRS brings more attention to their work. ED will announce the 2023 honorees in late April. Honorees will then be invited to a summer ceremony in Washington, D.C., where they will receive a sustainable plaque; be the subject of media attention; and have their efforts celebrated. Other schools, in turn, may learn about and adopt their practices.

For those schools that have not already received the award, now is a great time to begin preparing for the 2023–24 application cycle by using the resources and programs available on the Green Strides School Sustainability Resource Hub and by contacting their state education authorities. Interested colleges and universities should contact their state higher education authorities, while schools and districts should contact their state education agencies. State education authorities can find award criteria and other state implementation guidance on ED's website and may contact U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools for more information.  

Resources and Opportunities

school infrastructure and sustainability commitment

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 their 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.

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

climate literacy update request for input

What Do People Need to Know About Climate Change?

What do you think people need to know about climate change? "Climate Literacy: The Essential Principles of Climate Science" has informed educators, policymakers, and scientists around the world for over a decade. The U.S. Global Change Research Program is updating the guide and would like to hear your feedback by May 31st on what the new guide should include. Keep an eye out for listening sessions and workshops.


Greening STEM Grants

Several natural resource agencies, including the National Park Service (NPS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are offering Greening STEM grants in collaboration with ED and the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF). These programs are intended to design and deliver STEM programming that partners formal and non-formal educators and engages youth from under-resourced and/or underrepresented communities. Specifically, these grants engage students in place-based citizen science to address environmental challenges, engender stewardship, and forge lasting collaborations. Apply for BLM funding by April 15 or NPS funding by April 30th. Stay tuned for information on a U.S. Forest Service Greening STEM Grant as well!


Wildfire Smoke Preparedness in Community Buildings Grant

The Wildfire Smoke Preparedness in Community Buildings program provides grants and cooperative agreements to States, federally recognized Tribes, public preschools, local educational agencies, and nonprofit organizations for the assessment, prevention, control, and/or abatement of wildfire smoke hazards in community buildings and related activities. The total estimated funding available for awards is $10,670,000. EPA anticipates awarding approximately 13-18 grants, ranging from $100,000 to $2,000,000. Learn more, attend an April 10th informational webinar, and apply by May 9th.

Hazel Wolf in Seattle Public Schools

Resources for Climate Resilient Schools

New resources for climate resilient schools have recently been published. First, the Climate Ready Schools Coalition in California released Climate Resilient California Schools: A Call to Action. The report outlines how climate change is impacting children's health and education in the state and offers recommendations for centering climate resiliency within the mission of public schools. Second, the California Department of Education released two-page guidance on planning for sustainable school communities, highlighting such aspects as school facilities master plans, active transportation, and sustainable school facilities designs. 

Aspen This Is Planet ED

School Pertinent Provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act

In case you missed it, The Aspen Institute's This Is Planet ED released guides to support the education sector in taking advantage of climate provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act. There are guides for early years, K–12 schools, and higher education.

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

Below, we spotlight two of the 2022 ED-GRS. Next month, we'll begin to feature the 2023 honorees. You can learn more about all of the ED-GRS in our annual Highlights Report and on our website.

Cassidy Elementary school electric vehicle

Cassidy Elementary School; Lexington, Kentucky
Cassidy Elementary School’s outdoor classroom includes accessible raised bed gardens, a butterfly habitat, a rain garden, composting, vermiculture, an erosion station, a soil percolation station, and animal tracks and insect exploratory regions. There are sensory, herb, and literature gardens, and a Kentucky native species area. Each year, through the Trout in the Classroom program, students explore ecosystems as they raise trout from eggs to understand their life cycle, water quality, and local watersheds. Students in the Scientists and Engineers Empowering Kids Science Club participate in projects to increase energy conservation and awareness. Cassidy was the first school in Fayette County Public Schools to implement the EPA's Air Quality Flag Program. Students engage in citizen science and storm drain stenciling and learn about watersheds and macroinvertebrates. Cassidy teachers attend the Bluegrass Greensource Teacher Environmental Academy to learn about public transportation, energy usage, solar energy, and wastewater treatment. Cassidy participates in the Electric Vehicle STEM Education Project through the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research. Students learn how electric transportation benefits the environment and human health. Cassidy receives locally sourced produce, offers a bike and walk to school day, collects bottle caps to upcycle into benches, and celebrates an annual Special Needs Awareness Week. A family needs center, school psychologist, occupational therapist, wellness night, and weekend food backpack program support the needs of the whole child.

Merced Union High School district 4-H

Merced Union High School District; Atwater, California
Merced Union High School District (MUHSD) encompasses six comprehensive high schools and two alternative education sites. In 2018, students at each school participated in a districtwide energy conservation competition, creating videos to educate other students about energy conservation. In 2016, MUHSD’s Green Technology and Energy Conservation students collaborated with the California Conservation Corps to perform energy audits on all district campuses. Students used data from energy audits to advocate for on-site solar installations at all seven campuses. The district decided to install solar panels for each school under a power purchase agreement with no upfront cost to the district. The new solar arrays are expected to generate 90% of the district’s energy needs and save over $4.5 million during the 28-year contract. More than half of the MUHSD school sites have a composting center and rain barrels. Since asthma is the most common cause of absenteeism in California's Central Valley, MUHSD staff work hard to keep buildings clean, dust-free, and humidity-controlled. Custodial staff use low-fragrance cleaning supplies, and yard work, such as mowing and blowing, are done before or after students are present. Each campus has greenhouses and raised bed gardens, with some campuses offering orchards of fruits and nuts. These efforts provide cafeterias with fresh produce, in addition to the eggs raised by Future Farmers of America students. Seven of the 14 course pathways are sustainability related, including agriculture and natural resources; building construction; energy, environment, and utilities; engineering and architecture; and transportation. Students in the green technology and energy conservation course construct solar systems for economically distressed households at least four times a year. 


Green Strides Design

Take Advantage of the Ongoing Green Strides Webinar Series 

The Green Strides Webinar Series has promoted over 3,000 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.)

Apr. 6, 2–3 p.m. Organizing for Student Health and School Medicaid (Healthy Schools Campaign)

Apr. 11, 7–8:30 p.m. Power Up Training: Reg. Deadline March 20 - 1st Session (The Climate Reality Project)

Apr. 12, 2–3 p.m. Climate Crisis Awareness and Action in Higher Education (AASHE)

Apr. 12, 7–8 p.m. Wild About Pollinators (Green Teacher)

Apr. 13, 7–8:30 p.m. Power Up Training: Reg. Deadline March 20 – 2nd Session (The Climate Reality Project)

Apr. 19, 2–3 p.m. Safe Routes to School Networking Session (Safe Routes Partnership)

Apr. 20, 2–3 p.m. Living Schoolyards Act Lecture Series – Part 3 (Green Schoolyards America)

Apr. 20, 2–3 p.m. Waste Reduction and Diversion in Laboratories (CURC)

Apr. 25, 1–2 p.m. Bike-Ped Meets Higher Education (Safe Routes Partnership)

Apr. 26, 2–3 p.m. Campus Wide Solutions to Zero Waste (AASHE)

Apr. 27, 1–2 p.m. Managing for Climate Change in Marine Protected Areas (NOAA)

May 3, 2–3 p.m. Cooking with Purpose – Empowering Food-Insecure College Students (AASHE)


Greenbuild 2023 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 and registration is now open.

K-12 Facilities Forum Panel Federal Funding for School Facilities

K12 Facilities Forum

The next K12 Facilities Forum will be Nov. 12-14 in Austin, Texas. The K12 Facilities Forum is a convening for facilities and operations leaders from the nation’s top school districts. Past topics have included federal funding for public school facilities, making facilities more resilient, the net-zero school, access to the outdoors, and energy efficiency.

Shadow Valley Elementary School Utah garden bed

Students at 2021 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School Shadow Valley Elementary School in Ogden, Utah, prepare for the garden season.