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Envisioning One Planet Schools
By Indy Media /

From By Sarah Rich.


The best way to get new ideas to take hold is to teach them to young people. School-age kids are impressionable and imaginitive, and pick up new perspectives readily. So it makes sense that a concept like "One Planet Living" -- which many of us find difficult to imagine -- would be natural to a kid. It's pretty simple, after all: we have just one planet; we have to learn to live as though we understand that.


Classroom education around environmental responsibility is much more complex today than it was ten or twenty years ago. When I was in grade school, "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" was as far as it went, augmented occasionally by a tree-planting ceremony on Earth Day. Now in addition to literacy, we have ecoliteracy; we're developing math lessons for calculating a school's carbon footprint, and health education that explains the nutritional benefits of local, organic food. Ideally, the engaging, hands-on way in which schools are now teaching these ideas will lead kids to more easily form good habits as they grow up.


A new initiative in Los Angeles may elevate the green savvy of students in the LA Unified School District. A partnership between the e-waste recycling company, Planetgreen and LA's resident tree activist organization, TreePeople, has yielded a proposal for the LAUSD to commit to recycling inkjet cartridges in exchange for the planting of trees on their campuses. For every 1,500 cartridges recycled, Planet Green would sponsor the planting of ten trees. This will also contribute to Mayor Villaraigosa's citywide Million Trees LA Initiative. This is one that seems to have a high likelihood of positive long-term impact, since e-waste disposal is one of those behavioral shifts that often seems impossibly difficult to achieve among adult consumers. In school, where recycling is pre-arranged and cartridges get tossed out in bulk, kids can start to understand the importance of taking those few extra steps.


A truly one planet school has many requisite parts of course. It's not just what happens in the classroom or the cafeteria, but the actual construction of the building itself, as well. Schools built green can be learning tools in action, while promoting the health of the students and faculty, and improving the state of the environment. In Washington DC, Sidwell Friends Middle School has built one of the few (and best) models of a sustainable school to date. Completed at the end of 2006, Sidwell's new digs are up for a LEED Platinum certification, which their architects, Kieran Timberlake, characterize as:


a demonstration of Sidwell Friends' commitment to environmental stewardship through high-performance building design and operations. The landscape and building will co-exist within, and demonstrate, a broader network of systems. Human systems - our inter-relationships with resources - are embodied by the landscape and building as natural systems. The system itself, rather than a representation, is the ethic rendered aesthetic.


As such, Sidwell incorporates all of the key ingredients of a good green building, such as abundant natural light, operable windows, lanolin flooring, and bamboo and wheatboard in doors and cabinetry, as well as a bio-pond and constructed wetlands. Additionally, the school has made top-of-the-line technology a priority for the classrooms, ensuring that kids of the best possible tools and resources for learning. Of course, Sidwell is a well-endowed private school, and this kind of cutting-edge, comprehensive retrofitting doesn't come easily to public school systems.


But such an approach doesn't have to be reserved to an elite sector of the population, and indeed some key organizations are already proving that. Youth education and training programs like Sustainable South Bronx and the Harlem Children's Zone (which we wrote about in the book) are preparing kids to become empowered, green-minded change-makers. Hopefully, as with high-end green furniture and consumer products, a ripple effect will lead to better opportunities for schools reliant on government funding to achieve ideal learning [and playing] environments.

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Envisioning One Planet Schools