Recently, Director of Programs, Tiffany Broyles Yost and I were invited to speak about sustainability in the classroom at Explore Charter School, a K-8 public school in Flatbush, Brooklyn. At Urban Green Council, most of our educational events are geared towards building professionals, so it was a nice change to meet with middle school students newly introduced to the world of green building.
We took the opportunity to speak with the students about USGBC’s Center for Green Schools’ Green Apple initiative to provide healthy and environmentally responsible schools. We wanted to discuss how schools with clean air and plentiful access to daylight have more engaged students and that better acoustics and more comfortable classrooms enhance productivity and alertness.
This information was not news to the 7th and 8th graders at Explore. Our first question to them was, “Why does it matter if your school is green?” The first student to answer said it mattered because schools need to be a healthy environment, so children can learn and take care of the planet for the future. I was impressed! As we presented images of “green” schools, the students immediately recognized the sustainable features, including everything from skylights to bicycle racks. The students also spoke of the difference between their school’s current location, in a large building with plenty of operable windows, and its previous location, inside an “old warehouse” with fewer and smaller windows. They described how hot it had been, which made it difficult to concentrate, or worse, made them tired.
Throughout our presentation, Tiffany and I emphasized the importance of conserving resources and how “using less” is really the first step to going green. By simply turning off lights, students can help lower the school’s energy use. The students also offered several ideas for renewable energy sources, citing biomass and geothermal among the more common solar and wind. To end our discussion, we talked about some innovative systems, such as soccer balls that generate power, solar backpacks, and energy producing sneakers. The response was fantastic!
In addition to being a nice change from the office, our visit to Explore was an extremely encouraging experience. The students already had a firm grasp on sustainable practices and how they can positively impact their environment. They are now more aware of the benefits of green buildings and will inevitably bring that knowledge home to their families. As they continue through school, they’ll want to attend green colleges and eventually work in green offices, creating a demand for sustainable building. That’s a good sign.