Two Delaware educational institutions have been named 2019 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon winners.
The Caesar Rodney School District, based in Wyoming, and Georgetown’s The Jefferson School were honored in a ceremony May 29 at W. Reily Brown Elementary in Dover. They were two of 53 across the country awarded the Green Ribbon title this year.
The Green Ribbon program aims to inspire three pillars of excellence: reducing environmental effect and costs, improving health and wellness of schools, students and staff and providing effective environmental and sustainability education.
Caesar Rodney School District
Todd Klawinski is an environmental education specialist in the Caesar Rodney district, which encompasses a dozen schools with more than 8,000 students.
Klawinski has organized student-led “eco-teams” at each school. At Allen Frear Elementary in Camden Wyoming, their eco-team did a trash audit in 2017. Students collected data by weighing and counting everything the school disposed of. They found that 350 plastic bags from the school’s breakfast program were being trashed daily.
“The kids voted on and picked out the best reusable bag and that program was successful,” Klawinski said. “We bought about 400 reusable bags to replace the plastic bags.”
At Nellie Hughes Stokes Elementary School in Dover, the trash audit data found that a lot of perfectly good, unused food and materials were being wasted. Packaged utensils and snack foods, fruit and beverages were all going in the trash.
Students pitched the idea of a cart that students could place unwanted food on and that hungry students could access.
“Now the cafeteria spends less on food, kids are getting what they need if they’re hungry and we keep stuff out of the landfill,” Klawinski said.
Brown Elementary in Dover and Caesar Rodney High in Camden have outdoor learning spaces.
“We have a lot of unused areas that have to be mowed, and that takes time and gas,” Klawinski said. “Many of them are soggy, and then we have a lot of drainage downhill that just isn’t safe to mow.”
Many of those areas are being planted to mitigate flooding, create wildlife habitats and learning spaces. By growing their own plants, students can propagate them and plant them in other areas.
Several Caesar Rodney schools have student gardens and use compost tumblers.
“We really owe them the ability to be high-functioning, 21st century learners and citizens,” Klawinski said. “And you can’t do that if you don’t understand our waste stream or the importance of conserving energy.”
The Jefferson School
The Jefferson School is a private school with about 100 students in Georgetown.
The school is on a 43-acre campus by Redden State Forest. The property includes nature trails, two ponds, a greenhouse, gardens, beehives, a compost pile, goats and chickens.
Bill Nelson is The Jefferson School’s environmental science coordinator.
“We have a roadkill café,” he said. “Whenever we see a dead deer on the side of the road we bring it in and let the kids watch it decompose. We have a wildlife camera – it’s amazing how many animals come at night.”
Head of School Connie Hendricks started at The Jefferson School about 10 years ago, and immediately focused on getting the students outside.
“There’s so much research behind it, it’s good for them. It’s grown into the ethos of this school,” she said.
Nelson oversees classes that use food grown on campus to teach the students where food comes from and how to cook it. Students “eat the rainbow” in health classes, where they try healthy foods of all colors.
“They try things they won’t try at home,” Hendricks said. “The weirder it is, the cooler it is to them.”
Using the outdoor campus, Nelson organizes lessons on things like water quality, food toxins, ecological footprints, recycling, nature walks and trash art, to name a few.
Student volunteers care for four goats and 10 chickens.
“The kids are very responsible, and it helps teach them responsibility and empathy,” Hendricks said.
A 141-kilowatt solar field was installed earlier this year. On a sunny day, it provides 100 percent of the school’s electricity.
“This award basically says we’re doing something right,” Nelson said. “We’re really lucky with our campus and to have a head who values getting children back into nature and a parent body and board who support it as well.”