The U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) honors schools each year for their sustainable facilities, health practices, and great environmental education. ED-GRS—developed in 2011—has contributed to a growing understanding of what the green school movement is across the country.
Schools honored with the ED-GRS award do an exceptional job in each of the three pillars of the award: reducing environmental impact; promoting a healthy physical and mental environment; and offering effective environmental and sustainability education. This year, the U.S. Department of Education recognized 39 schools, 11 districts and 5 postsecondary institutions with the award.
Here are the three public charter schools honored this year:
1. Odyssey Charter School (Delaware)
Odyssey Charter School (OCS) is an innovative and diverse dual-language Greek school in Wilmington, Delaware. OCS has 24 raised bed gardens and an outdoor vertical garden providing every student a chance to engage in hands-on gardening activities and raise their awareness of environmental protection. OCS earned an Eco-Schools Green Flag in 2019, making it the first charter school in Delaware to earn this international award.
Not only has OCS made reducing plastic waste an institutional practice, they played an active role in advocating for a Delaware law that bans single-use plastic bags. OCS students participated in every stage of the legislative process to get the bill passed.
OCS is also one of three leading schools to plan a statewide Youth Environmental Summit to make environmental education accessible to students beyond its own community.
2. SEEQS: The School for Examining Essential Questions of Sustainability (Hawaii)
SEEQS is a high-performing charter middle school in Honolulu serving 180 students. What makes SEEQS stand out is their environmental and sustainability education.
Every student is required to enroll in an Essential Question of Sustainability (EQS) course, each designed around an essential question on a topic relevant to Hawaii. One example of an EQS project is called “Rain Gardens,” which contributes to the health of local watershed and prevents flooding on campus.
Taking advantage of the size of its large campus, SEEQS has built two semi-permanent outdoor classrooms to minimize energy use. SEEQS also took steps to reduce harmful consumption by shifting away from Styrofoam lunch trays, implementing a one-to-one Chromebook program to reduce paper use, and issuing a ban on single-use plastic drink containers on campus.
3. Cape Romain Environmental Education Charter School (South Carolina)
Cape Romain Environmental Education Charter School (CREECS) is an environmentally themed charter school located in the town of McClellanville, South Carolina.
In order to maintain good air quality both outdoors and indoors, CREECS participated in the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) Breathe Better program by reducing vehicles on campus and building a hallway aeroponic garden and terrarium to help filter the indoor air. As a chemical-free campus, no pesticides or fertilizers are used and CREECS is also getting the school garden certified organic by the USDA.
All CREECS students attend environmental education class at least twice per week. These classes immerse students in environmental stewardship through meaningful and innovative learning experiences. In 2016, CREECS was awarded the SCDHEC’s Champions of the Environment Grant for their living shoreline restoration project.
Congratulations to these charter schools for going above and beyond in ‘going green!’ These schools show education is much more than what’s happening in the classroom.
Yueting (Cynthia) Xu is the data specialist at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.