Fall 2014
Education Trends

Is your school green and healthy?

Is your school green and healthy?

Schools that adopt green and healthy initiatives improve overall student academic achievement, safety, health and the environment. As we seek solutions to environmental problems, we need schools that lead by example and educate and empower students to find creative solutions to the problems. Why focus on schools? It's the perfect opportunity to help young students learn habits that will last a lifetime.

Is your school green and healthy? Many schools now have outdoor gardens; energy-efficient lights; recycling programs; incentives for students to walk, bike or car pool; toxic-free cleaning products; and low or no pesticide use on school grounds. What does it mean to be green and healthy, and how can schools that don't have any of these programs become green and healthy? Answer: The Green and Healthy Schools Wisconsin (GHS) program.

Is your school green and healthy?

The GHS program is a free, voluntary, Internet-based, self-paced recognition program administered through the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Public Instruction and the Wisconsin Center for Environmental Education. Currently, there are about 270 K-12 public and private schools in Wisconsin that are certified GHS, an increase of more than 100 schools in just the last year.

GHS encourages students and the entire educational community to create safe and healthy learning environments that are sustainable and provide opportunities to seek solutions to common problems. GHS is achievement-based, so schools that have already established themselves as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified or participate in other sustainable programs can receive credit and advance to higher recognition levels when they first apply for GHS status.

Nine focus areas

GHS recognizes achievement in nine program areas:

  • Community involvement
  • Energy
  • Environmental and sustainable education
  • Environmental health (pest management, use of chemicals, integrated pest management)
  • Health and wellness
  • Recycling and waste management
  • School site
  • Transportation
  • Water

New schools can choose a minimum of four of the focus areas to gain basic recognition as green and healthy. Schools receive greater recognition by meeting requirements in the other focus areas (see GHS levels discussion at the end of this article).

Within each area, GHS provides a variety of resources, activities, information and access to training. GHS also provides experts in each focus area for additional help. How do schools achieve mastery in each area? Each focus area begins with an audit requiring staff and students to review existing practices within their school and identify needed improvement. Teamwork, problem-solving and goal setting are critical to the long-term success of achieving healthier and sustainable practices.

Benefits of becoming green and healthy

All schools can benefit from Wisconsin's GHS. Whether a school already has existing healthy, safe and environmentally sound practices or is new to the program, there is room to excel and receive recognition as a GHS.

By identifying and implementing additional healthy, safe and environmental practices, a school can become a GHS. The program helps to increase:

  • Health and safety levels in learning environments.
  • Sense of ownership by teachers, students and staff in the school.
  • Energy efficiency and reduced operating costs.
  • Protection of natural resources.
  • Connections between the community and the school.
  • Use of the school site and facilities as a teaching tool.

The application process and GHS levels

Once an online application is submitted by school staff, a GHS program administrator reviews the application and determines your school's program level. There are four levels beginning at the Sprout level and progressing through the sapling, seedling and finally the Sugar Maple level. Schools can move beyond the Sugar Maple level to the national Department of Energy (DOE) Green Ribbon status, a status reached by only a handful of Wisconsin schools so far. Locally, Park Elementary School in Cross Plains received a DOE Green Ribbon award.

GHS recognition involves hard work, commitment and persistence, but the payoff is a huge reward for the school, staff, students and community. Interested in learning more about how your school can become a green and healthy school? Visit GHS at the EE in Wisconsin website, http://eeinwisconsin.org.