It’s not necessarily easy being green when your school is housed in a 1930s building in the middle of downtown.
But teachers and students at Exploris Charter School have spent years looking for ways to be conscientious environmental stewards anyway, from the way they manage their electricity and water use to how they incorporate lessons on sustainability into their curriculum.
Now, their efforts have won them a top honor from the federal Department of Education as a “Green Ribbon” school. Exploris was one of 48 schools and the only one in North Carolina to receive the award this year.
The award recognizes reduction of environmental impact and utility costs, health promotion and environmental education.
Shannon Hardy, a sixth-grade teacher who led the middle school’s application to the program, said the award recognizes the hard work students and teachers have put into thinking carefully about their actions and finding creative solutions to any environmental or health problems they encounter. It’s work they incorporate into their learning every day.
“This building becomes a living classroom for all of the middle school,” she said.
Henry Long, a rising seventh-grader, spent a month working with his classmates to collect and measure how much trash the school produced each day – data that helped build the school’s application.
The work got him thinking about ways to reduce landfill waste and the benefits for the school, as well as the broader community.
“I feel if I can help solve this problem and help our landfill last longer, then I am helping a lot of people,” he said.
The highlights of the school’s application include a 24.4 percent reduction in non-transportation energy use during a three-year period, a 19 percent reduction in domestic water use, changes in when and how the school is cleaned to minimize chemical exposure and a sustainable literacy requirement.
Hardy said the changes don’t just make a difference to health and the environment but also yield significant financial savings. Those savings can be pumped back into instructional spending and teacher salaries.
“We’re driven to save and conserve in utilities and facilities cost,” she said.
Michelle Wawrzyniak , office manager at Hedgehog Holdings, the school’s landlord, said the changes Exploris has made help keep costs down and also inspire the company to think about what they can do in other historic buildings.
“It definitely got me thinking about how we use these service in other locations,” she said.
Exploris will expand this year to include kindergarten through fifth grade. School officials already are thinking of ways to continue its environmental efforts on its second campus, from construction decisions to curriculum choices, said Hardy.