Education Groups Kick Off Coalition for Green Schools
NEA Joins AFT, PTA, U.S. Green Building Council, Healthy Schools Initiative, and others to promote green schools
By Cindy Long
As president of the U.S. Green Building Council, Rick Fedrizzi gets lots of “fan” mail. Once he received a photograph of a group of smiling kids waiting in line for the water fountain at their school. Above the fountain was a sign the kids were probably too young to read: “Caution. No Drinking. Lead.” Attached to the photograph was a handwritten note that said, “Please do something about this!” With the help of a new coalition, Fedrizzi intends to do just that.
Fedrizzi and the U.S. Green Building Council hosted eleven education and environmental organizations, including NEA, at its Washington, D.C., headquarters September 8 to launch the Coalition for Green Schools. Together they seek to prove that not only is it easy being green, it’s also healthier and more cost effective for our students and schools.
“We need to look beyond the balance sheets,” said Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter, the event’s featured speaker. “There are millions of kids attending schools that are not healthy, and their ability to learn is restricted…This coalition can help make the case for the energy savings, cost savings, and increase in productivity that green schools bring about.”
Green schools cost less money to operate and use less water and energy than traditional school structures, saving an average of $100,000 per year. Green schools also offer living laboratories where students receive experiential lessons in science, ecology, and conservation. But the most important impact green schools have, the coalition members agreed, is that they provide clean, healthy environments where educators, staff, and students have fewer sick days and are able to learn and achieve more.
"We’re telling our kids that they’re not worth very much when we put them in situations where they get sick,” said Carolyn Breedlove of NEA’s External Partnerships and Advocacy and longtime advocate of sustainability. “Green schools make a big difference in the health of the environment, which makes a big difference to our kids.”
Breedlove added that making a difference for our children now will lead to them making a difference in the world they’ll soon inherit. There’s a link between green school structures, green curriculum, and a green way of life, which the coalition hopes today’s students will adopt.
The idea is to create a generation of “sustainability natives” and to instill in them a sense of stewardship that their grandparents and great-grandparents once shared. Before the culture of consumption took over, Americans lived in an era of conservation where people grew much of their own food, had one family car, lived in small houses, shared or traded what they had with their friends and neighbors, and eschewed waste of any kind.
“It’s about being a part of a community that cares about itself,” said Under Secretary Kanter. “We’re looking for schools to lead the way in creating the next generation of authentically green citizens.”