In the early 2000s the Athens-Clarke County Recycling Division teamed up with Keep Athens-Clarke County Beautiful and applied for the Keep Georgia Beautiful Environmental Education Grant. And they won.
With that grant, these two departments were able to start the Green School Program in Athens- Clarke County, with the first “Green School” being designated in 2005.
“It was a great way to help expand our programs and assist our local schools with their environmental education needs—all the while helping our local community and environment,” says Suki Janssen, former middle school science teacher turned ACC Solid Waste Department Director. More than 15 years has passed since the pilot program and the first school designation. Janssen has been blown away by the number of schools participating in the program, which exposes hundreds and hundreds of students to environmentally friendly efforts each year.
For the 2018-2019 school year, there are 24 Green Schools, including not only public schools from elementary to high school, but also Montessori and private schools. “It just keeps growing and growing,” says Laurel Loftin, the ACC Water Conservation Coordinator. The mission of the Green School Program is to assist schools with environmental education and improvement efforts that focus on conservation, preservation, and beautification of our environment. The program is a collaborative effort between Keep Athens Clarke County Beautiful (KACCB), the ACC Recycling Division, public utilities (water conservation), and storm water management.
“In each of our departments, our mission is taking care of the environment and sustainability of the city, so this involves students in that,” says Stacy Smith, the Program Educational Specialist of KACCB. Other departments and outside organizations have partnered when they’ve had additional staff, such as the University of Georgia’s Extension Department.
In order to qualify as a Green School, schools must meet certain yearly requirements: They need a total of 25 credits. For example, elementary schools must have at least five teachers complete and record five green lessons each. Schools can also implement school-wide events for credit. The lesson plans can either be from a particular department or created by the teacher and submitted for approval.
Loftin explains that the water conservation department, for example, will create lesson plans for teachers. “We know they’re busy, so it’s very important to us that we don’t create an additional burden on the teachers. We’re always looking for ways to be a resource to the teachers, making it easier for them to continue participating in the program, while also connecting these lessons to the Georgia Performance Standards that the teachers must adhere to.”
For Lifespan Montessori, a Green School since 2013, “each lesson must include a hands-on activity that the children can participate in as well as a book or song to go along with the activity,” explains Program Director Jasmyne Willingham.
In Janet Fielding’s classroom at Chase Street Elementary, where she’s been a Green Teacher since 2006, the students often work in their garden. However, they also recycle on a daily basis, read books on the human footprint, use water and electricity mindfully, and frequently pick up litter around campus.
“Basically, we try to use every day good habits in the classroom to help students learn to be ‘green’ and take care of their environment,” says Fielding. She also orchestrates a school-wide recycling of household batteries and printer ink cartridges, taking them to the appropriate recycling centers.
Most of the schools that are currently participating in the program have been practicing environmentally friendly efforts long before they were designated as a Green School. Hilsman Middle School has been doing all they can to be green for at least 10 years, but have been an official Green School every year since 2012, according to Audrey Whitfield Hughes, the Program Coordinator.