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Iowa school districts honored for 'green' efforts

Date: 
Monday, April 22, 2013

Two Iowa school districts have been honored for their efforts to create campuses and education programs that stress environmentally sound practices.

Des Moines and Starmont were among 78 schools and districts honored nationwide in the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools’ recognition. Des Moines was recognized for saving the district $2.4 million in energy costs since 2007, or the equivalent of 66 first-time teachers. Starmont was honored for its preschool-through-12th grade work to create a sustainable campus and its environmental education efforts.

Sixty-four schools nationwide, including Starmont, were honored for their exemplary efforts to reduce environmental impact and utility costs, promote better health, and ensure effective environmental education, including civics and green career pathways. In addition, 14 districts, including Des Moines, were honored for the first-ever District Sustainability Award. This is the second year of the national recognition program.

Both Des Moines and Starmont were nominated by the Iowa Department of Education.

The recognition award is part of a larger U.S. Department of Education effort to identify and disseminate knowledge about practices that are proven to result in improved student engagement, higher academic achievement and graduation rates, and workforce preparedness, as well as a government-wide goal of increasing energy independence and economic security.

“Today’s honorees are modeling a comprehensive approach to being green,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “They are demonstrating ways schools can simultaneously cut costs; improve health, performance and equity; and provide an education geared toward the jobs of the future. In fact, the selected districts are saving millions of dollars as a result of their greening efforts. And the great thing is that the resources these honorees are using are available for free to all schools."

“Preparing students for success in the 21st century economy begins in our schools. The schools and districts being honored today are modeling the best practices in reducing environmental impact and cutting costs, creating a healthier learning environment, and providing students with an education geared toward the jobs of the future,” said Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality Nancy Sutley.

The Starmont Community School District, located in the northeast Iowa city of Arlington, was identified as a champion of vocational agriculture. The U.S. Department of Education noted:

“The entire Starmont campus is an extension of the classroom. Students participate in outdoor activities such as a fall prairie burning and spring reseeding, composting, and on-site gardening. The 17-acre agricultural test plot, green house, and gardens are used for learning experiences.  Students engage in service projects such as building benches made from concrete and recycled wood along the campus fitness trail.

“Elective classes for older students focus on green building, recycling, renewable energy, and sustainable consumption. The school partners with the University of Northern Iowa Center for Renewable Energy and Environmental Education and offers a vocational agricultural course that incorporates renewable energy.”

“The school used American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to convert from T-12 to T-8 lighting, equip areas with occupancy sensors, install demand control ventilation, and replace an outdated steam boiler with two energy efficient boilers. School buses run on biodiesel; 100 percent of paper is post-consumer material; and the campus diverts 39 percent of its waste from landfills through its recycling program.

“All students participate in local food taste tests, physical fitness breaks, and interactive cross-age nutrition lessons. Nutrition and fitness is emphasized through the campus’ participation in Fuel Up to Play 60 and through a partnership with the Northeast Iowa Food Initiative, a program that provides educational workshops for teachers and students, an AmeriCorps member to assist with food preparation once a week, and guidance on nutrition and active living policies. Starmont encourages healthy eating by providing fruits and vegetables during lunch and by offering healthy chicken wraps and fruit at concession stands.”

The Des Moines school district was cited for its commitment to preserving older buildings and efforts to make them more environmentally friendly. According to the U.S. Department of Education:

“Many facilities have undergone tremendous renovation. Large-scale energy improvements have included HVAC, building envelope, and electrical upgrades. Thirty-three buildings have replaced the traditional boiler system with geothermal systems. When geothermal was not possible, other steps, such as replacing outdated boilers with high efficiency units, were taken. Other facility upgrades have included the installation of double-pane glazed windows and doors with internal insulation and weather stripping, improvements to lighting systems such as installing high-efficiency T8 and T5 bulbs, LED, and motion sensors, and replacing pneumatic controls with Direct-Digital Control technology which can be set to stagger startup and avoid peak demand.”

“In order to implement many of the facilities improvements, the district has worked with multiple partners, including Johnson Controls, The Weidt Group, MidAmerican Energy, and The Energy Group, to develop and implement efficiency practices district-wide. For example, the district has worked with these partners to design and implement building automation and HVAC controls, review energy practices and options for retro-commissioning, auditing systems and energy consumption with cost/benefit analysis, and to take advantage of energy rebate programs.

“The district is committed to the health and wellness of its students, staff, and administrators. The district tests all buildings for lead and radon, and has removed all wooden playgrounds from the system. Nine schools participate in USDA HealthierUS School Challenge, four schools participate in Farm to School, 28 schools participate in Iowa Department of Public Health’s Pick a Better Snack program, and 11 schools have gardens.  Many schools also work with AmeriCorps FoodCorps and HealthCorps members and the Dairy Council’s Fuel Up to Play 60.”

The schools were confirmed from a pool of candidates voluntarily nominated by 32 state education agencies. The list of selectees includes 54 public schools and 10 private schools. The public schools include seven charter, five magnet and four career and technical schools. The schools serve various grade levels, including 40 elementary, 23 middle and 19 high schools are among them, with several schools having various K-12 configurations, from 29 states and the District of Columbia. More than half of the 2013 honorees serve a student body more than 40 percent of which is eligible for free and reduced-price lunch.

The U.S. Department of Education will publish updated competition criteria this summer for the awards’ third year, once again working closely with participating states, collaborating organizations and partner agencies. State education agencies are encouraged to indicate intent to nominate schools in 2014 by Aug. 1, 2013.

Printed from the Iowa Department of Education website on April 20, 2014 at 5:04am.