Evergreen Community Charter School

I came fairly late to the sustainability game. Growing up, my family always recycled and composted, but that was the extent of it. It wasn’t until I moved to a small town in British Columbia and then later began writing on the subject, that I began to explore the other side – waste reduction, eco-tech, and increasing the efficiency of everything from the cars we drive to the buildings we inhabit.

A new breed of schools is on their way to ensuring that this sort of education will come far sooner for their young students. These schools have started popping up all over the country, united with a single-minded focus: emphasizing sustainability and eco-awareness in their teachings, in addition to the standard school curriculum. Don’t believe me? Here are two perfect examples.

Reach for the STARS

One of these schools is called the STAR School Initiative, located in Flagstaff, Arizona. It’s entering its 15th year of operation, the STAR (Service to All Relations) School Initiative exists entirely off the grid – a necessity rather than a luxury, given that it’s located bordering America’s largest Indian reservation.

Serving students both from the surrounding community and the Navajo nation itself, the school is entirely powered by 245 solar panels and two wind generators. In addition to teaching environmental awareness, the school utilizes something called place-based learning, drawing from traditional Navajo teachings which emphasize relationships between students as well as between human beings and the environment. Quite a change from the cold concrete and competition-based schools that we most often encounter.

STAR School may be small, but its approach is getting noticed by some big names. In 2012, it was awarded a Green Ribbon School Award by the U.S. Department of Education for its efforts to practice and teach sustainability, and students will soon be able to explore our relationship with other planets, too. Local student Kiril Kirkov received a grant from NASA to host students twice a month at the Coconino Community College where they can set their sights on the stars.

Greening schools

1700 miles away in Asheville, South Carolina, Evergreen Community Charter School (ECCS) has a similar mission. Another Green Ribbon School recipient, ECCS strives to foster a connection with the natural world which isn’t seen as additional or extra to the curriculum, but in fact, an essential part of it, a way to help children relate to the larger world they live in. With community gardens, exercise breaks, and outdoor classrooms, this school seeks to blur the line between outdoors and in, the natural world and the educational one.

Evergreen Community Charter School
Image courtesy of Evergreen Community Charter School.

Sustainable education

Based on their unique perspective on learning, each of these schools was recognized as being part of the 41 Most Innovative K–12 Schools in America list.

These schools and others like them represent an integral shift in the way we view education and the role it has in the lives of our children. It’s not enough to graduate knowing how to read, spell, and read a periodic table. It’s not enough to cram young people’s minds full of facts they’ll forget within a year or two (seriously, ask me about the war if 1812 and see the kind of blank stare you get).

Education now needs to be flexible, engaging, and designed to help our young people create a sustainable world in which to live and grow. We simply can not wait for the next generations to pick up information on sustainability or carbon footprints as we have, haphazardly in their spare time if the mood strikes.

What these schools are teaching their students –  and the wider education system as a whole –  is that reducing, reusing and recycling are quickly becoming just as important as reading, writing, and arithmetic. No memorizing necessary.

Feature image courtesy of Evergreen Community Charter School

By Madeleine Somerville

Madeleine Somerville is the author of All You Need Is Less: An Eco-Friendly Guide to Guilt-Free Green Living and Stress-Free Simplicity. She is a writer, wannabe hippie and lover of soft cheeses. She lives in Edmonton, Canada, with her daughter. You can also find Madeleine at her blog, Sweet Madeleine.