Our students learn what they live. If they spend all their school days in sterile classrooms, prison-like buildings and lifeless playgrounds, they will not become creative and critical thinkers, and they will not learn that human beings are a part of the beautiful web of life. Why should schools, by their very design, be allowed to kill the wonderful spirit of our youngest citizens?
In nature a repulsive caterpillar turns into a lovely butterfly. But with human beings it is the other way round: a lovely butterfly turns into a repulsive caterpillar.
— Anton Chekhov, Russian writer (1860-1904)
Greening school facilities means designing (and then building or renovating/retrofitting and decorating) school environments that help students stay connected with the rest of Nature, while helping them learn, both passively and actively, about energy efficiency and green building design.
While I was working as the Coordinator of Environment and Sustainability Programs at an independent boys' school in Toronto, a school goal was to renovate all the classrooms at the secondary school (grades 8 to 12) within the next few years. Because this was a Green School, a committee was struck to ensure that the renovations would be as environmentally friendly (and student/teacher/learning friendly) as possible. With many thanks to the OLE (Optimal Learning Environments) Committee members, I would like to share our final template with you, because
The goal was to use research-based best practices, state-of-the-art technology, and sound design principles to intentionally create (by building or renovating) classrooms that are healthy, environmentally friendly, and conducive to effective learning and teaching.
The purpose of this template was to share with architects, designers and others the criteria we believed would best support students and teachers in their education programs, within our Green School framework.
I acknowledge that not all the criteria listed on these pages will be suitable for all cultures and climates, but the more humane our schools, classrooms and playgrounds, the more humane our students will be toward each other and the rest of Nature.
I recently asked a group of students and parents in a smaller community what environmentally features they would like to see in their school. For each suggestion, see if you can picture the curriculum integration and the behaviour changes that would naturally follow. Here's what they had to say:
Artist's rendition of an outdoor classroom
By the way, if you'd like a simple way to start greening your school facilities, put plants in the classrooms, hallways and offices. And bring flowers! Researchers at Rutgers University explored the link between flowers and life satisfaction, and discovered that flowers immediately impact happiness. All participants in the study demonstrated extraordinary delight upon receiving flowers — a universal reaction that occurred in all age groups. Participants also reported feeling less depressed and agitated, and showed a higher sense of enjoyment and life satisfaction after receiving flowers. Plus, the presence of flowers led to more intimate connections with family and friends.
You don't need a task force or a study group to buy flowers for your kids. What you need to know is that the children and the adults [in your school] deserve flowers in their life. The cost is incidental, but the gesture is huge.
— Bill Strickland
I should mention that these suggestions above came from a school that already composts lunch waste and has a full recycling program in place, which is taken care of by the middle school students in partnership with the community's recycling depot. The 3Rs — Reduce, Reuse, Recycle — come first.
If you want to learn more about greening school facilities, a good starting place is LEED for Schools (LEED is the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System™), or the U.S. Green Building Council's Center for Green Schools.
Here's to schools becoming as safe, healthy and inviting as we'd like our students' homes to be. Indeed, here's to schools becoming homes away from home!
Do you have a great story about greening your school's facilities? If you'd like to contribute an idea or a project that your school is working on, please let us know about it. We'd love to hear from you!
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