Friday, July 31, 2009

EcoSchool How To

In Ontario, we have an EcoSchool program that encourages schools to compete against themselves to be as environmental as possible in practice and attitude. I found it to be a great way to encourage teachers to change some of their current behaviours. Some people, believe it or not, don't really care much about all this environmental stuff. But they do care about their jobs. As a school with a significant enrollment drop, advertising our Gold EcoSchool status is one way to attract more students and thereby keep more teachers and elective courses.

I've been environmentally conscious all my life. My parents lived during the depression and had that "don't be wasteful - ever" mentality. We were collecting cans and papers for the Boy Scouts decades before the blue box program started. I was already using hemp paper in class and teaching with the lights off. So when I heard about EcoSchools, I jumped on it for a chance to get more people on board.

I found the program a bit overwhelming to get my head around when I first read through all the info. If you're just starting, here's some organizational tips in plain English that might help:

The Basic Idea

There are six categories: communication, energy, waste, landscaping, curriculum, and activities. To get a gold standing you have to get about 90% in each category. If you blow one category, you can still get silver or bronze, which have slighty lower standards. There's a new standing now: Platinum. So I have to temper my bragging! Platinum schools have an additional mentoring program.

Where to Begin: Introduce the Idea to Staff

Prepare a 3-4" binder with 8 dividers: one for each category, a section for other ideas people have done, and a chronological section where you keep track of things that happen as they happen. The last two sections might help you fill out some of the categories at the end.

In September or early October, tell the staff about EcoSchools. Get people on board to form an EcoTeam. For full points, you need to include an admin person, a custodian, a secretary, a parent, another teacher, and some students in the team. They don't have to come to every meeting. You really just have to meet twice a year. But each person has to show up to at least one meeting. The most important person in that list, I think, is the custodian. Without custodial support, it will be a hard road. Keep a list of everyone that helped with anything all year in the communication section. And save all the agendas and minutes from every meeting that even mentions EcoSchools. Also save a copy of student announcements.

Part of the announcements and discussion should be around curriulum. You'll need seven lesson plans that last at least two classes with a focus on the environment from various teachers. I'd get face-to-face with the geography and science heads to start. But I ended up with lessons from art, business, and history too. Not only do you need the lesson plans, handouts, and rubrics (or other evaluation methods), but you also need a copy of student work. Ask early and ask often to get this section together. You can also check out the curriculum labels at the side for some lesson plan ideas to offer to teachers.

Do the Audits Early in the Year

Then do the waste and energy audits. You have to do an initial audit, and an ending one, and they have to be done six months apart, so early October is the latest. Do the waste and energy audits both at once. Unless your head caretaker keeps records of all this, it involves some hands-on work and a bit of time. Make a chart with a list of all the rooms in the school down the sides and on the top columns for recycling weight, garbage weight, lights off, monitors off, TVs unplugged, curtains closed, re-use-it box (or GOOS box) available, etc. Divide up the school, and send groups of people to different areas with a scale to record their findings. At the end, figure out what percentage of the school (roughly) is turning off the lights at night, closing curtains, how much people throw out and recycle, etc.

The other part of the audit is to go through a day's worth of garbage to see what percent is recycling, compostable, etc. This is a many-hands-make-light-work kind of job. This year I did it with a few teachers and one student. The rest of the club didn't show up even though they picked the day to accomodate the most people. That happens. Next year, I'll be getting my class to do it as part of the anthropology unit.

Finally, you'll have to meet with the head-custodian at some point to find out all about your heating and cooling systems. Have a student do an interview with the questions on the checklist!

Fill out the forms necessary, and put all the info (including rough work) in the energy and waste sections.

Now What?

From October to March, you need to actually try to educate and alter behaviours around environmental issues. Start by "making an action plan with your EcoTeam." In other words, get together with anyone interested and brainstorm everything you might do to affect people in the school. Even an impromptu discussion in the staff room should be included. Write it all down and include it in the communication section as a whole, but then also include how you're going to affect energy, waste, and landscaping, and what kinds of activities to plan (you need four for full marks) and put those ideas in the individual sections. It's a lot of paperwork, ironically. Next year they might be willing to do much of it on-line.

Action Plan Ideas

Also check out the "cool ideas" label at the side. I'll keep including more as I come up with more - and hopefully others, like YOU, will have some ideas to add too. As you implement the plan, take photos of everything.

* Put stickers on the lights and monitors that remind people to turn them off.
* Put a sign by the door that asks people if they turned off everything and unplugged (or turned off the power bar attached to) the TV, DVD player, etc.
* Offer prizes if any class has all their monitors off at the end of the period. This takes a bit of work from students to check.
* Make Earth Hour last a day (preferably not a Saturday), and encourage teachers to teach with the lights off regularly - even if they just turn off a bank of lights. We've found low lighting makes the students calmer too.

* Get a recycling program going if you don't have one
* Get composting going
* Put up signs to remind people what can be recycled - even better: put signs on the garbage can to indicate only the items that should go in there. (pretty much just candy wrappers and meat, cheese, dairy waste if you don't have a digester)
* Put a "re-use-it" box (or GOOS box) in each room. My high school kids didn't like the GOOS (good-on-one-side) word, so we changed it.
* Put recycling boxes in the bathrooms if you use paper towels to dry hands. It's still paper.

Landscaping / Schoolyard Greening:
* Create an area somewhere that students can work outside
* Plant some shade trees or windblock trees

Activity Ideas

Pick four of these. If you have more ideas, please let me know in the comments or by e-mail if it's detailed.

* Set up a Free Store.
* Get together a team for the Envirothon.
* Hold a "Leave Your Car at Home" week.
* Have a Paper=Habitat week. We held an assembly with Down To Earth, and I tried to get staff and admin to decrease the amount of paper they use (my suggestions). Unfortunately they think we need a committee to discuss it all before we can begin.
* Sell mini-bins for smokers to put their butts in to stop the yard being littered with the most toxic and most common pollution individuals make.
* Hold a Water Week. Sell stainless steel water bottles, offer water taste tests including water from the school's tap, and show a movie like Sharkwater or FLOW.
* Have a movie night with a speaker and a current environmental film like Wall-E. Or an oldy like Dawn of the Dead. (It's about mindless consumerism - really.)
* Have a poster making contest that deals with a specific environmental concern.
* Get on board with Turn off the TV or Mental-Detox week.
* Have a bike rally - like a car rally but with teams of bicycles.
* Make a film about what your school has done this year.
* Have an Earth Day celebration. We do an EarthFest concert. I'll write more about that soon.

Final Audit

In early March, do another waste and energy audit. Get your students to start hounding teachers (or other students at this point) for their environmental lesson plans.

The Package

Take a day off. We get release days, but do what you can if you don't. Go through everything you collected over the year and make sure all the checklists are complete. Did you meet with every type of person on the list? Are the audits and action plans complete for the energy and waste sections? Do you have photos of the landscaping plans and actual landscaped areas? Do you have info on all your activities? Did you scrounge up seven lesson plans with student work?

Send it in to your board rep usually early April or late March. Someone might come in a few weeks from now to check out your school. After that, think up a display for the EcoSchool presentation ceremony.

Thank everyone involved profusely and with food, so they'll come back next year to do it all again.

No comments: