The economic crisis and dwindling financial resources over the last few years have put school districts all over the country in serious trouble. They’re reducing or eliminating elective classes, cramming more students into fewer classrooms, silencing music, and even losing athletics programs. In fact I heard on National Public Radio recently that many children around the country no longer know what “physical education” is (which I grew up with), nor do they know how to play organized games–because these have all been cut out from school curricula!
In the midst of all these problems it’ should come as no surprise that school districts are not exactly going green. They perceive the effort as too expensive at a time when schools are frantically searching for viable ways to reduce overhead and more effectively manage their resources.
President Obama has called us to action in an era of greater responsibility for ourselves, our neighbors, and our communities. Our schools are a precious resource where we should all pitch in to help. Here are five ways in which you can make a difference and help create a “green school” in your community:
1) Get involved and make your voice heard. Don’t just sit at home helping your kids with their homework. Go to every parent-teacher conference. Get to know their teachers and the school principal. Join a school-related civic group. Get to know the superintendant or whoever leads the school district. If you’re the political sort, consider running for school board. Whatever you decide, let it be known that you believe that eco sustainability is important, that you instill those values in your child, and that you want the school to reflect those values in the way it recycles waste and uses energy.
2) Teach kids about green living. Here in Arlington, VA the non-profit environmental organization for which I volunteer, ACE, regularly goes into classrooms to teach kids the basics of green living: how to recycle, why it’s important to turn off the lights and the water, and why conservation matters. Kids can then turn around and put those greener practices to use at school and at home, maybe even teaching their own parents about the importance of greener living.
Work with your child’s teacher and see if she’d be interested in having you come to her class and talk about these important issues. There’s no better way to ensure a greener future than to get kids to start doing it now. If you think this is counterproductive because “everyone has already heard about recycling,” you’re wrong. I’ve met plenty of people (both kids and adults) who either didn’t know anything about recycling, or needed a good refresher or push to start doing it again. Nothing will get adults recycling like hearing “Mom, why did you throw away that plastic bottle instead of putting it in the recycle bin?!”
3) Push for paperless classrooms. Let your child’s teacher know you’ll support her effort to go as paperless as possible, and help out with that if you can and have the know-how. In an effort to reduce the carbon footprint of the classroom, some innovative teachers have established electronic homework and study manuals. Students can file their homework online and receive private, electronic feedback from their teachers. This takes very little money to set up and basically just requires an Internet connection.
4) Volunteer to help maintain the school grounds. A school’s landscaping can wither right along with its budget. Offer to help out to make the school literally greener again. Better yet, get other parents involved and make an occasional day out of weeding, trash collecting and seasonal maintenance. Some resourceful parents could even take their lawn tractors to the school to maintain playing fields. While you’re doing all this, stop using toxic herbicides and insecticides in favor of more natural solutions.
There are legal issues to consider with this kind of thing, so it’s best to partner up with environmentally minded teachers and school officials to make this happen.
5) Approach local businesses about volunteering money for your local school. Schools could benefit from many “green” improvements that may not be in the budget–from efficient auto-flush toilets to lighting sensors. At the same time there are always many local businesses looking to “do good” for their communities; it not only makes them responsible corporate citizens, but it also provides them good publicity and free marketing. Bring the two together, and try to find ways that these local businesses can “do good” by putting their dollars to work funding water conservation, energy efficiency, or other green upgrades.
Have other ideas for making your kids’ schools go green during a time of economic uncertainty? Post them here.