May 2023 Infrastructure and Sustainability News

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May 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 Sustainability Resource Hub, including upcoming webinars and information on U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) honorees. 

In this issue:

In the News

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

The 2023 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools Are Here!

On April 20, in a video message from Secretary Cardona, blog, report, and press release, the U.S. Department of Education announced the names of the 2023 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools, District Sustainability Awardees, and Postsecondary Sustainability Awardees. Across the country, 26 schools, 11 districts, and four postsecondary institutions have been recognized for their innovative efforts to address the three “pillars” of the program: reducing environmental impact and utility costs; improving health and wellness; and ensuring effective sustainability education. The honorees were named from a pool of candidates nominated by 18 states. Notably, two-thirds of the school honorees are located in under resourced communities. 

For those schools that have not already received the ED-GRS award, now is a great time to begin preparing for the 2023–24 application cycle by using the resources on Green Strides and by contacting your state education authority. Interested colleges and universities may contact their state higher education authorities, while schools and districts may contact state educational agencies.  State education authorities can find award implementation guidance on ED’s website and may email U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools for more information. Check out this fact sheet on the award.

Secretary Miguel Cardona Quote 1 Green Schools

Moreno Valley Unified students planting

President Biden Signs Executive Order to Revitalize Nation’s Commitment to Environmental Justice 

President Biden and Vice President Harris believe that every person has a right to breathe clean air, drink clean water, and live in a healthy community. The President signed an executive order further embedding environmental justice into the work of federal agencies. The new Executive OrderRevitalizing Our Nation’s Commitment to Environmental Justice for All:

  • deepens the Biden-Harris Administration’s whole-of-government commitment to environmental justice. 
  • better protects overburdened communities from pollution and environmental harms.
  • strengthens engagement with communities and mobilizes federal agencies to confront existing and legacy barriers and injustices
  • promotes the latest science, data, and research, including on cumulative impacts.
  • expands interagency coordination and launches a new Office of Environmental Justice within the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
  • increases accountability and transparency in federal environmental justice policy, with agency Environmental Justice Scorecards.
  • honors and builds on the foundation of ongoing environmental justice work. 

Meet the 2023 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools

Below, we spotlight four of the 2023 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School honorees. You can learn more about all of the ED-GRS in our annual Highlights Report and on our website.

Moreno Valley Unified School District electric school buses

Moreno Valley Unified School District; Moreno Valley, California

Moreno Valley Unified School District (MVUSD) serves over 31,500 students in pre-k through 12th grades. In 2010, the MVUSD school board adopted an environmental education policy that recognizes that its schools play a crucial role in educating students about the importance of the environment. In 2018, MVUSD introduced the Junior Scholars Program as part of a mandatory curriculum for middle school students, which includes a semester where students solve real-world problems. Past school project subjects included solutions to pollution in the ocean, hydraulic vehicles, climate change, and environmental degradation. Ecological clubs and field trips support environmental and sustainability learning on campus and in the community. In 2020, MVUSD created an energy specialist manager position, and this employee is responsible for optimizing the use of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning; irrigation; and other energy-using systems. Fifteen of the district’s 42 sites have on-site solar energy generating systems. School sites employ such water conservation techniques as rainwater harvesting, xeriscaping, drip irrigation, and retention ponds. MVUSD’s Transportation Department transitioned its fleet of diesel buses to electric and responsible fuels, and now has 42 electric school buses, 28 compressed natural gas buses, and 31 propane buses. MVUSD provides elementary school students with additional fresh fruits and vegetables as snacks outside of regular meal service. Seventeen of the district’s 42 schools have one or more on-site gardens maintained by students, staff, or families. Several of these gardens are used for environmental science, STEAM, language arts, and social emotional learning. Some sites offer a 100-mile club, whereby students come to campus before school to run around the track for rewards.

Prairie Trails School Mt Prospect Illinois natural play space

Prairie Trails School; Mount Prospect, Illinois

Prairie Trails School serves the preschool and kindergarten students in River Trails School District 26. In 2021, major renovations were completed at Prairie Trails, making it a net-zero energy school. The building’s solar panels offset 100% of the school’s electricity needs. The building features an innovative variable refrigerant flow system of heating and cooling, which saves energy and ensures comfortable and conducive learning conditions. Renovations also included adding layered insulation to the building’s walls, LED lighting, low-flow toilets, and permeable pavers in the parking lot. The school emphasizes materials resource conservation, with strategies that include using compostable trays in the school lunch program and composting kitchen food scraps. One innovative feature is the natural playground, built using displaced soil from the renovation projects, that promotes cognitive, emotional, and physical growth while supporting an integrated curriculum. It also provides teachers with an outdoor teaching environment that includes several quiet and comfortable areas. The school has a green cleaning policy and uses only Green Seal products. The kindergarten curriculum includes important STEAM units, in which students learn about plants, animals, and weather and how they impact the world. The Prairie Trails School site serves as a learning hub for environment and sustainability for the school district’s older students.

Students in greenhouse

Francis L. Cardozo Education Campus; Washington, District of Columbia

The Francis L. Cardozo Education Campus (Cardozo) campus features a 1917 building that underwent a $130 million renovation and was reopened as LEED Gold certified in 2013. Outdoor learning and appreciation for nature are foundations of Cardozo life. The campus includes skylights, LED motion-sensor lighting, an 18,197 square foot green roof, and systems designed to efficiently reduce energy consumption. Twenty-five percent of the electricity is supplied by a wind power purchase agreement, with the remaining 75% offset by 100% Green-e® renewable energy credits. Students in the social justice class recently advocated for healthier and more appetizing meals, resulting in school menu improvements. The school garden, which features rain barrels, raised beds, and outdoor learning space, is used by teachers to explore food justice and urban gardening. Students have engaged the community by educating elementary students on recycling, creating videos on climate change, and performing air quality studies. Teachers have developed lesson plans on environmental literacy, reducing waste, and watershed management that they have then presented to other science teachers. A Wilderness Leadership and Learning Program teaches self-sufficiency and teamwork and engages students in outdoor experiences such as camping, kayaking, and water quality monitoring.

U Wisconsin Platteville Freshwater biology field samples

University of Wisconsin; Platteville, Wisconsin

The University of Wisconsin-Platteville (UW-Platteville) established its Sustainability Office in fall 2012. From 2008 to 2020, the university reduced its landfill waste by 34% and total source energy consumption by over 14%. The university discontinued the use of coal in its central heating plant in 2020 and constructed a 2.4-MW solar array, which is designed to offset electricity use by 15%, reduce annual energy costs by $211,000 and CO2 emissions by 2,300 tons, and is the largest array owned by a Wisconsin state agency. The waste minimization program, textbook rental program, energy efficiency investments, natural land management, and free public bus all help lower costs for students while reducing harmful environmental impacts. UW-Platteville has over 200 acres of natural recreation areas within five miles of campus used by a wide array of intramural sport teams and Division III athletic teams. The university has robust diversity, equity, and inclusion programming, offers free counseling services to students, manages its grounds and buildings to create a safe environment, serves nutritious and locally grown foods in its dining halls, and offers several employee wellness programs. Not only are nine degrees offered in environmental and sustainability-related fields (including Sustainable and Renewable Energy Systems and Social and Environmental Justice, among others), but also 56% of academic departments offer courses with a sustainability component.

Resources and Opportunities

Lake Washington School District hallway

Serve as a School Construction Grant Reader

ED's Impact Aid Program is currently soliciting peer reviewers for an upcoming discretionary construction grant competition. Specifically, the program is seeking those with a background in construction, school remodeling, architecture, or engineering. Impact Aid will convene reader panels training via teleconference in August. There will be two to four conferences, depending on the number of applications received, as well as a training webinar. Reviewers are compensated for their time, based on the number of applications scored. If you are interested in becoming a reader for this discretionary school construction grant competition, please submit your resume to by June 1.

Department of Labor logo

Davis-Bacon Act Requirements Apply for Use of Federal Infrastructure Funds

 Davis-Bacon Act is enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). As a result of 20 U.S.C. 1232b Labor Standards, the Davis-Bacon and Related Acts apply to contractors and subcontractors performing on federally funded or assisted contracts in excess of $2,000 for the construction, alteration, or repair (including painting) of public buildings or public works. A district using federal education funds, such as ESSER or GEER, for construction-related activities must include all applicable contract clauses found in 29 CFR 5.5. The district must also maintain contractor certified payroll records and submit these records to the state. The DOL determines and publishes wage rates for the various localities across the country. If you need additional information about the prevailing wages in your community, you should contact the DOL regional office serving your district. The DOL has issued several resources including a fact sheet on The Davis-Bacon and Related Acts

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 on what a new guide should include. Submit your comments by May 31 and keep an eye out for listening sessions and workshops.

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It's Not Too Late to Make a School Infrastructure and Sustainability Commitment

The Department invites national, regional, and local nonprofits, 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.

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

NOAA Ocean Guardian School Logo

Apply to Become an Ocean Guardian School

The Ocean Guardian School Program funds projects focused on current issues affecting local watersheds, the ocean, or both while promoting best environmental practices. Schools are invited to apply for grants of up to $4,000 per year. Applications are due June 1.

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23 Climate Levers for 2023 Toolkit

In case you missed it, Undaunted K12 released a toolkit with 23 Climate Levers for 2023 for Earth Day. These 23 levers across three key areas in K–12 education (governance and leadership; buildings and grounds; and teaching and learning) can help students, school leaders, and advocates set ambitious school climate goals and make a plan to achieve them. With the right tools, mindsets, and partners, districts and schools across the nation will continue to make their school communities more sustainable. 


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 (Note: All times listed are ET.)

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

May 10, 2–3 p.m. Engaging High School Students in Safe Routes Projects (Safe Routes Partnership)

May 10, 2–3 p.m. Living Schoolyards Act Lecture Series – Part 4 (Green Schoolyards America)

May 10, 8–9 p.m. Talking Climate Emotions with Kids (Climate Mental Health Network)

May 11, 3–4 p.m. Making the Case for Hiring School Sustainability & IAQ Staff (Center for Green Schools)

May 11, 5–6 p.m. The Ocean as a Carbon Sponge (NOAA)

May 16, 2–3 p.m. Community of Practice for Schoolyard Forests (Green Schoolyards America)

May 17, 2–3 p.m. Data Driven Collaboration for Sustainability Course Development (AASHE)

May 24, 2–3 p.m. UBC’s Sustainability Open Data (AASHE)

May. 25, 2–3 p.m. Living Schoolyards Act Lecture Series – Part 5 (Green Schoolyards America)

May 31, 2–3 p.m. Sulitest Certificate:  New Global Standard for Assessing Sustainability Knowledge (AASHE)


Asthma Awareness Month - Chemical Irritants Infographic

May Is Asthma Awareness Month

May is Asthma Awareness Month—a time to educate friends, family, and patients about asthma and promote awareness about how this serious, sometimes life-threatening, chronic respiratory disease can be controlled, including by improving school indoor environments. During Asthma Awareness Month, the Environmental Protection Agency provides ready-to-use tools and resources for use promoting asthma awareness in your school community.

Raintree Missouri outdoor learning

Early Learning Conference is July 24–28

The Natural Start Alliance Nature-Based Early Learning Conference will explore mental health and wellness through the lens of outdoor learning. Live online events will take place July 24 to 28 and access to on-demand sessions lasts all year.

Jefferson Elementary School Composting

Plan a Green Apple Day of Service at Your School

Keep students and our planet healthy through direct action to create better learning spaces in and out of school buildings. A Green Apple Day of Service gives parents, teachers, students, companies, and local organizations the opportunity to transform all schools into healthy, safe, and productive learning environments through local service projects. Check out project ideas, pick up helpful event resources, and register your project online.   

Secretary Miguel Cardona green schools quote 3