Environmentally friendly school facilities are critical. Teaching students environmental awareness and how to be good stewards of the earth is imperative. But are new green school buildings encompassing a whole curriculum? Are they practical, focused on the environment and the students, supportive of real teachers, designed to be democratic and public, or are they about something else?
Will green schools be another way to privatize public education? Many nonprofits connected to charter schools and technology promote green schools. The Waltons, known for their push to privatize public education, are community partners with Environmental Charter Schools.
Our planet is in trouble, and public schools are old, so focusing on green buildings is prudent. The green school movement is architecturally popular around the world. But how will children learn in these buildings of the future? Is the push for sustainability overriding the academic and social needs of children?
Will teachers with teaching degrees and credentials in their teaching areas be available to students?
Are these facilities also being designed to consider safety in tornado alley or earthquake zones? Where are they being built? Is the land safe?
Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Congressman Jamaal Bowman (NY-16) recently introduced legislation to promote climate resiliency in public schools. The Resilient Schools Act of 2021 would establish a Climate Change Resiliency Program at the Department of Education that would help prepare public school systems for the impacts of climate change while also providing infrastructural and health benefits to the broader community.
I appreciate Senator Markey and Congressman Bowman, but teachers don’t seem included, other than the AFT endorsing the plan.
Another endorser of this legislation is the Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council, promoting clean, safe buildings. They sell a variety of teaching activities in their Learning Lab connected to standards and promote more nonprofits surrounding environmental issues.
Anisa Heming, the director, is cited. Heming is described as one of the Most Powerful Women in Sustainability by Green Building and Design Magazine. Heming was first hired to work in the Recovery School District (RSD) in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The RSD was all about converting real public schools into charter schools. Now New Orleans is mostly charter schools. Is this what we can expect with green schools after Covid-19?
It’s important to look at new schools. Here are two.
The recently lauded Kathleen Grim School for Leadership and Sustainability at Sandy Ground (also P.S. 62) was renamed after New York City deputy chancellor for operations Kathleen Grim. She died of cancer in February. It’s honorable to name a school after Grim, but the name sounds like a charter school. Why not call it the Kathleen Grim Elementary School?
Many of the building’s features are praiseworthy.
The school’s sustainable features include an ultra-tight high-performance building envelope, daylit interiors, a geo-exchange system, energy-efficient lighting fixtures and kitchen equipment, energy recovery ventilator, demand-control ventilation, and solar thermal system hot water.
However, the track in front of the windows looks distracting, the playground appears cramped and uninviting, and the bicycles to generate electricity, while interesting, seem showy and impractical. Teachers might not like the hallway distractions.
The Discovery Elementary School in Arlington, Virginia, is beautiful, and the title doesn’t sound like a charter school, but the school itself seems like a science center. The classrooms are open, and in both this school and the Kathleen Grim School, there don’t seem to be many students.
Here’s how Theming + Graphic Wayfinding (terms that seem foreign) are described at the Discovery Elementary School.
As students progress through the school, their “world expands” – with the first floor themed around animals found in earth eco-systems and the second floor themed around the elements of the sky and heavens. Students start out as Backyard Adventurers in Kindergarten and finish Fifth Grade as Galaxy Voyagers. This story line is graphically communicated along an entry wall highlighting each Explorer grade level.
When students advance, so does the scope of their expanding world, both in graphics and in complexity of content. Educational signage connects the sustainable features of the building with factoids about the natural world.
Where are the other subjects? And even science centers change their exhibits. Won’t children get tired of the same wall presentations day after day?
It’s heartening that both schools have libraries, though.
This country must create better-engaging, well-rounded, workable, school facilities for children, safe and environmentally friendly to set an example for the country and the world.
But the teachers who work directly with the children, parents, and the community, deserve seats at the table. They should work with architects and environmentalists to help create safe and sustainable green schools, all-encompassing democratic public schools, child and teacher-friendly, that will serve America for years to come.
The heart of our green building community’s efforts must go well beyond construction and efficiency, and the materials that make up our buildings. We must dig deeper and focus on what matters most within those buildings: human beings.
~LEED’s (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)
Diane Rener says
My husband is LEED certified for building. LEED is focused on the sustainability of the BUIlDING. To be a LEED certified building, there is a menu of things you can include in your design that add up to different levels (yes… game-afying architecture design). One aspect is to include an educational component about sustainability.
Our district did a build and he fought to make the building LEED certified to the point of applying for state grants, himself, as a community member. It pushed the district into including structural aspects that continue to make it a HEALTHY building. This past year, just the way the HVAC system was set up with air exchanges for each individual room and higher level MERV filtration gave the ability for students to have a more safe environment to be in.
That all being said, having a LEED retrofit of an older building is really difficult and doing it on new build is really the key, but it is all very expensive. If this was a trend for the country, providing for equitable schooling by allowing all to experience a healthy learning environment, it would be fantastic. If it is only going to happen because groups are “gentrifying” schools into charters by attaching this to a glitzy trend… not so good.
This is case and point as to why we need a standard in this country for safe and healthy schools. All children deserve to be learning in a place with well working structure, clean air and drinkable water where they are t dealing with mold, rodents or toxins.
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you, Diane! This is an informative and important comment. All the points you make are well-taken. It is hopeful to hear positive comments about LEED, and especially your husband’s caring commitment to the community and public schools.
Sheila Resseger says
School buildings that are clean, healthful, inviting, and aesthetically pleasing should be the literal foundation for an engaging teaching/learning experience. Adding the “green” label is hopeful. However, I’m wondering if these 21st century buildings come equipped with wifi routers throughout, and/or cell towers nearby. If the designers are oblivious to the harms of the radiation emitted from these devices (including cell phones, tablets, and chromebooks), then the buildings will be culprits in the negative health effects that have been proved to ensue from this radiation. Students can access the internet and enjoy appropriately planned lessons via computer if the devices are wired and there are no routers involved. I hope those tasked with designing these buildings are aware of this very real threat.
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you, Sheila. I hope they consider everything they need to to make schools safe.
Cell phones and Wi_Fi operate at relatively low frequency ranges that are no more dangerous than your home lights. It is the ultra-high frequencies of UV, X-ray, and Gamma rays that are classified as dangerous, ionizing radiation capable of damaging human DNA within our cells. No need to worry about your phone or lap tap.
Nancy Bailey says