by BJ Romaine 2016
Let’s be realistic, the effectiveness of education boils down to participation. Consider how a teenager begs when they want to drive the first time. The desire to drive, and then the experience of actually doing so, encourages the teenager to try harder to learn. Whether it is history or math, the level of comprehension is directly related to the level at which a student is an active part of the learning process. Reading books is helpful, but actually doing something makes it real.
More and more educators are teaching children about sustainability, healthy eating and how our behavior impacts the environment around us. At the same time, school administrators are focused on making the schools themselves more sustainable, both environmentally and as a means of surviving budget cuts. Reducing waste, eliminating materials-heavy school projects and saving on energy use are some of the most common goals to reduce costs while, at the same time, reducing the carbon impact of education. These goals are even more achievable when educators and students participate.
How can educators motivate their students to join in the efforts to make their school more sustainable? More importantly, how can they motivate students to embrace learning about sustainability for their own benefit?
Encouraging behavioral changes such as recycling in the classroom and turning out lights to reduce energy usage can help. However, in order to make these behaviors second nature, it is also crucial that children understand the reasons why it is important to make these changes. It is equally important for them to see positive results from their efforts.
While hands-on learning projects have proven to be the most effective way for children to both appreciate and retain what they learn, they can cost money. In fact, the cost factor presents one of the biggest challenges teachers face when creating impactful lesson plans that keeps their students engaged. Limitations in school budgets too often mean teachers won’t be reimbursed – even when projects are designed to save the schools money.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way!
Some K-12 teachers are coming up with innovative, cost efficient creative classroom projects that can produce very positive learning outcomes for students that also help schools meet their sustainability goals (environmentally and economically). Ultimately, if successfully implemented, these projects should:
- Effectively engage students with hands-on projects that produce measurable results
- Teach children about ecology and benefits of sustainability
- Reduce costs ordinarily born by teachers or school budgets
- Instill sense of ownership and achievement in students
- Engage the whole community in helping education become more sustainable
Making sustainability projects in schools financially sustainable.
While some sustainability projects in K-12 schools are designed to save educators money, others will require some inventive fundraising and community donations to make them feasible.
There are a number of ways that educators, parents and students can raise money needed to initiate their sustainability projects. Some like to raise money through activities like bake sales or car washes. Teachers often create a wish list that is circulated by students and their families to encourage donations from family members, churches or community groups. Parents and students can reach out to local businesses for donations.
For planting projects, parents and teachers can reach out to nurseries for donations or to landscape companies, which often discard plants when upgrading their clients’ gardens.
One enterprising PTA held a carnival complete with rides, a kissing booth manned by teachers, a spook show, and throwing contests. They sold pizza by the slice and soft drinks too. The event was a neighborhood success and it raised several thousand dollars.
In some states, energy efficiency projects could qualify for funding by the school district as a cost cutting measure. Some science, landscaping and edible garden projects also qualify for grants from government agencies. Grant writing and project management might require management skills not readily available in school staffs. In such cases, schools may need to allocate resources for a professional grant writer or additional administrator to handle applications.
But, in most cases, these projects can be done at little cost and have built-in labor. Parents and school children often happily undertake interactive, educational projects. More often than not, the work experience proves to be useful, educational and a lot of fun for everyone involved. Best of all, sustainability projects are great learning tools that don’t cost teachers any money and can actually help schools save money.
One step at a time projects allow effort to be applied at a slower pace and with less effort than bigger projects. Students can see benefits in small steps, but overall their effort can make a sustainable difference in their own schools. As with all projects accomplished by students, an appropriate ceremony should be planned to recognize their participation.
Let’s Get Started!
The following pages offer five basic categories of hands on sustainability projects that can help schools reduce their carbon footprint and help teachers encourage student participation in green projects – without coming out of pocket. Each addresses the school’s sustainability goal, the positive learning outcomes for students and specifics on implementing each type of project.
- Energy Reduction Projects
- School Greening & Tree Planting Projects
- Edible Garden Projects
- Composting Projects
- Recycling Recycled Materials Projects