Students in Bellingham Public Schools are enriched by the community partnership with Sustainable Schools, a program of RE Sources for Sustainable Communities. The highlight of this work is the Green Classroom Certification Program in our elementary schools and similar programming in the middle and high schools. This free program helps teachers integrate conservation education into curriculum to help students develop lifelong skills related to environmental education and resource conservation.
Elementary teachers receive prepared project ideas for their classroom, up to 10 hours of in-class facilitation and materials for instruction. The curriculum meets state academic standards, is grade-level appropriate, and encourages students to take initiative for their own learning.
With comparable numbers this school year, in 2017-18, the program saw participation by 37 elementary classrooms. The classroom pledges and action projects highlight our students’ engagement in the community including completing service-learning projects on their school grounds and surrounding community areas such as neighborhood litter clean up and recycling to help keep waterways clean and involvement in the City of Bellingham Walk for Water event. Other classrooms used their pledge to educate others through posters, videos, and energy or waste audit presentations. These are examples of our students demonstrating they are well-rounded community members engaged with the broader world.
The middle and high school program offered 78 workshops in 2017-2018, and according to Priscilla Brotherton, sustainable schools program manager, the middle school numbers are growing this year. Based on the success of the Green Classroom model, curriculum for the older students takes a “deeper dive” into resource conservation and environmental education.
Brotherton shared that students at Options High School learned about stormwater pollution and marked nearby storm drains for public awareness. Other students at Options learned about our waste streams and how to reduce Option’s impact while others “upcycled” in their art classes. A similar curriculum was offered at Sehome, Squalicum, Kulshan, Shuksan, and Whatcom. Of note: After learning about fecal coliform (a stormwater pollutant) students installed a “Mutt Mitt Station” near the playfields at Shuksan!
Other recent programs include a “recycled” clothing event at Birchwood Elementary which served both as a way to keep textiles out of the landfill, but to also give some back-to-school new-to-you clothing to families. This clothing program was thanks to funding from Ragfinery.
Other Sustainable Schools initiatives in concert with the City of Bellingham included water conservation education (see first grade water tip video from Columbia Elementary linked here) and spring cleaning and maintaining the native plant garden at Whatcom Middle School.
In the future, Sustainable Schools staff hope to help assist in the reduction of waste (both from packaging and food) produced from the Breakfast in the Classroom program and to assist with waste management and recovery for the cafeterias. Waste reduction is an ongoing area of focus as we try to work toward zero waste in our cafeterias and food service program.
Brotherton took a moment answer a few questions about the RE Sources school program she manages.
Tell us why these environmental education activities are so important for students.
Brotheton: In a world where so much time is spent indoors and in the virtual world, it is imperative that students connect with the natural world. Additionally, research shows spending time in nature enhances educational outcomes by improving academic performance, focus, behavior, and love of learning (childrenandnature.org/research). Youth are experiencing “ecological grief” and showing them that there is something they can do about it, a way to change the course of the trajectory is so important.
What are the biggest takeaways after students join in these activities?
Brotherton: We want the students to know that they can take action – even the smallest change in behavior can make a difference. We want them to feel empowered to take action, as they are the future leaders.
Can you share some ‘aha’ moments for students?
Brotherton: At Fairhaven Middle School, students gasped and pointed at the whiteboard while one student yelled to the class “Everyone look! To make one burger it takes 660 gallons of water!”. Many students are shocked to learn about the direct and indirect uses of water in their daily lives.
After implementing a waste audit at SQHS a junior in the environmental club asked with exasperation, ” Why haven’t I learned about this before?”