Leading by example, New Jersey schools focus on sustainability

Posted on by Donna Drewes, Co-Director, Sustainable Jersey

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 Sustainable Jersey for Schools had an exceptional first year, culminating with the recognition of our inaugural group of 59 certified schools at the New Jersey School Boards Association Workshop 2015.

Donna Drewes

Donna Drewes

Five school districts emerged as sustainability leaders by successfully supporting the efforts of multiple schools in their district to achieve program certification. The five standout school districts are: Egg Harbor Township, Cherry Hill, Medford, Readington and Wayne.

For achieving the most points in the Sustainable Jersey for Schools’ certification program, three schools received a 2015 Sustainability Champion award: Three Bridges Elementary School, Galloway Township Middle School and Egg Harbor Township High School.

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Three Bridges Elementary School

Located in Hunterdon County, Three Bridges Elementary School in the Readington Township School District serves about 300 students from Kindergarten through third grade.

“The Three Bridges School community is so excited and proud to have earned silver status and the Champion Award,” said Principal Kristen Higgins. Three Bridges Elementary School has reduced electric, gas and water consumption through student and staff education and energy use reduction programs. Students developed and tend a school vegetable garden and a sensory garden was built and cultivated by parent volunteers for use by the students. The gardens are nourished by compost created by the students and water from the school’s rain barrels.

Principal Kristen Higgins explained, “Our school worked closely with our sister school, Whitehouse School, central office personnel and the entire community on several sustainability projects throughout the year. Many volunteers offered their expertise in areas of science education, gardening, healthy living and energy conservation. We truly hope that our focus and efforts are helping our students learn to be responsible stewards of our Earth.”

Select students in first, second and third grade serve as lunchroom monitors and guide other students as they throw garbage away and recycle in the cafeteria. The students wear green bands on their arms to identify themselves as part of the Go Green Tiger Team. The students are extremely excited to become part of the team.

Go Green Reusable Shopping Bags were sold at the winter concert. The profits from the sale of the bags were used to purchase a tiger from the World Wildlife Fund. The tiger is one of the most threatened species on Earth, and the students were excited to help protect a tiger and its habitat.

Review all of the actions that this school accomplished; read the certification report: Three Bridges Elementary School.

school garden

Galloway Township Middle School

Galloway Township Middle School, located in the Galloway Township Public Schools District in Atlantic County, serves about 830 students in seventh and eighth grade.

Galloway Township Middle School has made a concerted effort to rethink the way the school fundraises, handles extra food in the cafe and communicates to the community. In coordination with the student council, environmental club and food service manager, the school administration has learned how to make the school’s daily practices more sustainable. The teachers’ Styrofoam trays were replaced with reusable trays and recyclable milk cartons were introduced. There was always a recycling can for students to put recyclables in, but now the students assist with the recycling process during each lunch period. In addition, the students have a station for unopened graham crackers, juice containers and fresh fruit which is donated to a local church.

“Sustainable Jersey for Schools has had a remarkable impact on our school climate and has encouraged our students to develop innovative methods to reduce waste while adding beauty to our school environment,” Principal Paula Junker of Galloway Township Middle School reported. “The Galloway Township Middle School family is honored to have been awarded silver certification for the sustainable initiatives we have completed over the course of a year to become more mindful and appreciative of our environment through educating our school and community. This program has made a lasting mark on our school and we look forward to continuing the vision of sustainability.”

Review all of the actions that this school accomplished; read the certification report: Galloway Township Middle School. 

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Egg Harbor Township High School in Atlantic County

Egg Harbor Township High School, located in Atlantic County, serves about 2,422 students in grades 9-12.

Jim House, a teacher of Environmental Science at Egg Harbor Township High School said, “Egg Harbor Township High School is extremely honored to receive such a prestigious award. While we’ve really kicked up our sustainability efforts here, we know there’s always room for improvement. We’re proud to be among a great group of New Jersey schools that are working really hard to achieve sustainability goals and create a better future for everyone.”

The high school started a composting program in the school and teaches the students about the different methods of composting. Prep food scraps from the kitchen staff are collected and put in bins set up in the teacher faculty rooms and several of the science classrooms. A group of dedicated students have been collecting the material, weighing it and then adding the right combination of carbon to nitrogen ratios for composting. A composting location has been set up on the campus

Egg Harbor Township School District Superintendent Dr. Scott McCartney said, “I am very proud of our school family for their hard work to create environmentally sound and sustainable practices in all aspects of our operation. The fact that all of our schools are being recognized is a testament to the dedication we have to this cause. Our sustainable practices not only save money for our taxpayers but they educate our students to be good stewards of the environment and conserve valuable resources. We are very appreciative of the recognition and for the work Sustainable Jersey is doing across New Jersey with schools and communities.”

Review all of the actions that this school accomplished; read the certification report: Egg Harbor Township High School. 

Grants Available To Support Schools and Districts

To support the efforts of these pioneering schools, Sustainable Jersey for Schools provides grants and technical support. To date, the Sustainable Jersey for Schools Small Grant Program has committed a half-million dollars in small grants for school and school district projects. The 2015 Sustainable Jersey for Schools Small Grants program is funded by the PSEG Foundation, New Jersey Education Association and the Gardinier Environmental Fund.

The funded projects are inspiring; for example, energy teams will be created in all Atlantic City Public Schools to educate students on environmental issues, energy literacy will be incorporated into the K-12 curricula for Princeton Public Schools, West Cape May Elementary School will create a winter greenhouse space to serve as an outdoor classroom and Egg Harbor Township School District is creating a No-Foam Cafeteria Zone Project. The PSEG Foundation is contributing $100,000 to support another cycle of the Sustainable Jersey for Schools Small Grants Program to fund projects that help schools gain points needed for certification and make progress toward a sustainable future. To see the current grants available and the list of projects funded, visit: Sustainable Jersey Small Grants Program.

We are proud of the administrators, teachers, students and communities that have a clear vision for the future and take risks to meet our most important sustainability goals. The future looks bright; we can’t wait to see what the New Year will bring! Dreaming big, I hope to be able to celebrate at least 100 new certified schools at our second awards ceremony in October 2016.

For more about Sustainable Jersey for Schools:

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