Sustainable Jersey: Preparing the Next Generation of Sustainability Heroes

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

Three New Jersey schools receive Sustainability Champion awards

Schools 1

This week, Sustainable Jersey for Schools celebrated the 83 schools that achieved Sustainable Jersey for Schools certification in 2016 at an awards event attended by over 250 teachers, principals, green team volunteers, school board members and staff.

I left the event with a surge of hope for the future. It is our children who will ultimately be solving the most pressing sustainability challenges. That is why the opportunities and experiences provided in the schools are so important.

Three schools in Atlantic County received the Sustainability Champion Award: Reeds Road Elementary School, Alder Avenue Middle School and Egg Harbor Township High School.

This award recognizes schools that have made significant progress toward sustainability and have been certified with the most Sustainable Jersey for Schools points in one of three categories: elementary, middle or high school. These schools far exceeded the minimum requirement of 150 points for bronze-level certification.

Solar Nachos at Reeds Road Elementary School

Reeds Road Elementary School serves over 650 students and is located in Galloway Township School District. Reeds Road Elementary School was certified at the silver-level with 415 points after completing and documenting actions including a District Sustainability Policy, Breakfast After the Bell, staff wellness activities, Mr. B’s Backyard classroom, cafeteria composting, energy tracking, school gardens, a green fair, a green challenge, education for sustainability programs, a school health assessment, a waste audit and more. Review all of the actions completed; read the 2016 Reeds Road Elementary School Certification Report.

School participation in Sustainable Jersey for Schools was championed by several school staff members.  The school green team, which has nearly 40 members, worked with Barbara Fiedler, the now retired Galloway Township Sustainability Chief Officer, Steven Boilli, the Galloway Township Public Schools Operation Manager/Energy Education Specialist, the Galloway Township School Board of Education, students and the Atlantic County Utilities Authority.

Principal Dr. William Zipparo, Reeds Road Elementary School said, “Nothing in life is difficult, things only take time. And most people have a tendency to equate putting in time with something being difficult. At Reeds Road School this was our approach to earning the silver-level certification. Yes, it took time but everyone worked as a team to produce this wonderful sustainable program. The K-6 students were so excited to place their compost in the bins at lunch and record which composting bin was working the best. The knowledge that the students gained through this initiative will be long lasting and will certainly carry over as the years unfold at our school. We were truly fortunate to have had this opportunity to make our world a little bit greener.”

Reeds Road Elementary School completed all twelve of the Sustainable Jersey for Schools Education for Sustainability (EfS) Actions that require sustainability instruction to be built into the curriculum. EfS prepares students to tackle sustainability challenges by engaging them in solutions-based lessons that consider diverse social, economic and cultural perspectives.

The creative EfS programs at Reeds Road Elementary School have provided the foundation for the many accomplishments of this Sustainability Champion award school. Each grade has a different focus for the EfS program; for example, the first-grade students participated in a four-day lesson in which they visualized how much water is used to do everyday tasks and then decided how much water is needed to grow common food items.

The students each made a necklace of 100 beads that represented 100 percent of water on Earth: 97 blue beads represented salt water, two white beads represented frozen water and one green bead represented clean drinking water. In second grade, the students participated in a unit called, “Be an Environmental Superhero.” The students were taught how to be more sustainable both at home and at school by learning the meaning of recycling, reducing and reusing.

Schools 2A solar cooker lesson was taught to the third-grade classes. It began with a discussion of what nonrenewable resources are and the problems that they can cause for the earth. Students were introduced to renewable energy sources and the benefits of these types of energy resources. The students were then asked to create their own solar cooker using a shoe box, aluminum foil, plastic wrap, tape, glue stick and newspaper. Students tested their solar cookers by making nachos with melted cheese.

The lesson titled, “What are Green Jobs?” was taught to sixth grade students to encourage the students to think about the future of sustainability on Earth. Students brainstormed a long list of environmental issues currently facing their generation and the jobs of the future that will have an environmental benefit.

Sixth graders also received a lesson titled, “We Dream of a World.” The students developed a long list of environmental issues currently facing their generation and then researched facts and possible solutions. In sixth grade math, a lesson called, “The Real Cost of a Water Bottle” allowed the class to discuss how many water bottles they drink in a day, a week and a year. Totals were tallied and discussed. The students were asked to develop possible solutions to the water bottle problem.

By integrating sustainability into classroom lessons, the students of Galloway Township will be well prepared to make informed choices with regard to the Earth’s resources and ready to meet new challenges presented.

Composting Lunch Waste at Alder Avenue Middle School

Schools 3Alder Avenue Middle School, located in Egg Harbor Township School District, has approximately 900 sixth, seventh and eighth grade students. This school was certified with 275 points after accomplishing actions including an Environmentally Sustainable Practices Policy, an on-site solar program, a school carbon footprint, Breakfast After the Bell, energy management and tracking, green purchasing, staff wellness, a no-foam cafeteria and more. Review all of the actions completed by this school; read the 2016 Alder Avenue Middle School Certification Report.

Principal Dr. Joseph Marinelli said, “I think I can speak for everyone at Alder Avenue Middle School when I say we are extremely proud, honored and humbled to be named among the state’s leaders in sustainability. But the real champions and movers and shakers are our students. Without them and their passion and commitment to the environment, none of this would be possible.”

Egg Harbor Township is fortunate to have a grassroots environmental education program called the Catawba Project, that partners Egg Harbor Township Public School students with township leaders, environmentalists, parents and community members to work together to help solve environmental problems. At Alder Avenue Middle School, the students involved with the Catawba Project did a waste audit of the lunch trash and realized that they needed to design a larger composting system to hold all of the organic waste produced from the school lunches.

Schools 4The students determined that each lunch resulted in over four pounds of organic waste being dumped into the trash. By projecting the total amount over the entire school year and multiplying by three lunches a day, they calculated that 2,160 pounds of organic waste could be taken out of the solid waste stream. The kids made a simple design for the composting system using pallets which allow the decomposing material to be rotated from left to right. The students also collected yard waste from the grounds staff and raked piles of leaves from the woods nearby to add to the compost system.

At the end of the school year, the students had a compost bin full of decomposing fruits and yard waste. The students made a presentation on the waste reduction project, including the composting of the cafeteria organic waste, to the Egg Harbor Township School Board. Now, a district-wide waste audit, spearheaded by Alder Avenue Middle School, is currently in the works. The Alder Avenue Middle School students will serve to ‘train-the-trainers’ and help younger district students conduct their own cafeteria waste audit and establish a compost project. Due to Alder Avenue School’s leadership, nine scales have been ordered to conduct the waste audits at the other Egg Harbor Township schools.

Principal Joseph Marinelli explained, “I have excellent staff who help the students transform their vision and passion into service projects that make a genuine difference in the community. I’m lucky to have staff members who are willing to come in early, stay after hours and work through their lunch periods to make sure that every student is engaged and succeeding — regardless of their learning level. All of our sustainability efforts involve project-based learning that is first introduced in the classroom and then put into action by the students. Students identify a need in the district or the community and then under the guidance of their teachers, design a plan of action to address that need. The students set timelines and goals, measure their outcomes, adjust their plans based on those outcomes, and work together as a team to accomplish those goals. It’s a win-win-win-win for the students, the environment, the community, and the school.”

No Foam Zone at Egg Harbor Township High School

With over 2,420 students, Egg Harbor Township High School serves students in ninth through twelfth grades. This school achieved Sustainable Jersey for Schools certification at the silver-level with 390 points for completing actions including an Environmentally Sustainable Practices Policy, a rooftop solar-system, a school carbon footprint, Breakfast After the Bell, energy tracking and management, a Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program, a green challenge, green fair, staff wellness council and more. To review the full program, read the 2016 Egg Harbor Township High School Certification Report.

Schools 5Egg Harbor Township High School Principal Dr. Terry Charlton said, Winning the Sustainability Champion award for the second year in a row shows our school’s commitment to sustainability at a high level. It takes continual efforts by every student and staff member and the knowledge that we are supported from our district administration and Board of Education.” 

As part of a district-wide initiative, the high school participated in a “No Foam Zone” day on which students were encouraged not to use foam trays in the cafeterias. Like other schools that use the cost-effective, single-use trays made of polystyrene foam, or Styrofoam, once the trays are used, they are discarded into trash cans, taking up enormous amounts of space and requiring the use of many trash bags. Along with other trash, these trays are sent to landfills where they do not disintegrate.

On “No Foam Zone Day” the high school replaced single-use foam trays in its lunchrooms with molded fiber trays that are eco-friendly and compostable. Before the event, the high school students took a survey to determine what they would feel comfortable carrying in the cafeteria and did a count of the number of trays used every day. The large number of trays used was so surprising to the students that they embraced the concept of a no foam day. During the morning broadcast, the high school television station encouraged students not to use the foam trays.

Egg Harbor Township High School also has a 454 kW rooftop solar system that has generated approximately 2.4 MW of energy since 2011. A monitoring program gives the community a snap shot of how much energy is being generated and the resulting reduction in greenhouse gases due to the solar panels. The high school science classes developed public service announcements that were displayed at various locations to encourage support of the bond referendum that was used to fund the project. Students now use the information and data gathered to monitor the system and incorporate into yearly energy projects.


Donna Drewes

Donna Drewes

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