Schools can achieve U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools certification through 4-H

Learn how Michigan 4-H can help your school achieve U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools certification.

Today, as a result of the sequester, Michigan educators and schools, may experience negative impacts as the state prepares for cuts to an estimated $22 million in funding for primary and secondary education. This may result in fewer high school and college graduates seeking teaching degrees in the invaluable field of education.

Even if teaching hopefuls were not dissuaded by these statistics, the sequesters impending impact to around 2,490 low-income students in Michigan who currently receive college financial aid; or the 1,300 students who will be impacted through fewer opportunities for work-study jobs that help them pay for college, could. This is notwithstanding the promise of the sequesters 300 teacher and aide jobs hanging in the balance, and the news that 25,000 fewer students may be served (with approximately 80 fewer schools slated to receive funding).

The news does not get any brighter for disabled students, with approximately $20.3 million in funds for about 240 special education teachers and aides being eliminated. In America, the land of plenty - a country where we take pride in inclusion and taking care of societies most vulnerable this is a travesty. According to the Huffington Post, foreign students are outpacing their American peers academically, with American students ranking 25th in math, 17th in science and 14th in readingThe Education Olympics (see graphic).

One bright spot in this gloomy picture is the US Department of Education’s Green Ribbon Schools program. In September 2011, U.S. Secretary of Education, Duncan announced the Green Ribbon Schools federal competition. Through the program, schools were challenged to work towards pillars or improvements that would:

1) Reduce environmental impact

2) Improve health and wellness

3) Provide effective environmental education

During the first year, over 350 schools ultimately completed and submitted Green Ribbon School applications, looking for ways they could reduce environmental impact, all the while improving health and educational opportunities. Organizers were struck by the number of participating schools serving underserved, disadvantaged students, including schools that were 100 percent American-Indian, two-thirds Hispanic, or 98 percent African American, as well as schools with populations with high numbers of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

As it turns out, organizers discovered that the Green Ribbon Schools program engaged students in the most innovative school improvement practices that they have run across in some time. These included empowering youth and schools to reduce their environmental impact and costs; improve student health; and ensuring that students graduate prepared with the skills and knowledge they will need to face the great challenges of the twenty-first century.

Specific programming ranged from schools purchasing renewable energy – solar, hydro, wind and geothermal; and generating it right on school premises; to the nation’s first off-grid solar and wind powered school. Some schools achieved net zero environmental impact, and others installed green roofs, pervious pavement, rain gardens, rain barrels, rain cisterns and/or low-flow water equipment of all types. They held lights-out lunches, implemented energy management plans and designate Helpful Energy Resource Officers (HEROs).

Aside from the learning that youth received when they participated in the Green Ribbon Schools program, they may be addressing one of the most serious unspoken dilemmas in American education: The alienation of youth from the real world outside their classroom. According to Louv, students today, with their preoccupation of texting, i-Phones, i-Pads, and Facebook chat rooms, they may be losing touch within their own communities and the natural world that supports the human species. Louv, has coined this phenomenon, being “nature deprived” or “nature deficit disorder.” In the book, Place and Community Based Education in Schools, takes this idea further, stating that today’s youth are community deprived.

In a second book, The Nature Principle, Louv identifies seven basic concepts that can help us reshape our lives. Tapping into the restorative powers of nature allows humankind to: Boost mental acuity and creativity; promote health and wellness; build smarter and more sustainable businesses, communities and economies; and ultimately strengthen human bonds.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Green Ribbon Schools program builds on Louv’s timely, inspiring and important work, giving educators, families and communities renewed hope while challenging them to rethink the way we live.

To learn more about how your school can become a Green Ribbon School, Michigan State University Extension encourages you to visit:

Partnering with programs, like the Michigan 4-H program, is one way to participate in environmental stewardship programming that may help schools gain their Green Ribbon School certification.

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