Students Rally Around a Challenge to Green Their School

By Hope Gribble, USGBC-MGC Education & Green Schools Coordinator

Students at North Kirkwood Middle School rallied around the challenge to green their school. The challenge was the Green Schools Quest, and their aim was manifold. Not only did the students want to create a learning environment that was healthier for the planet, but also one that was healthier for people, would save the school district money and bring the community closer together.

Their efforts began with the click of a button. The students’ teacher, Chris Hooker, entered their class into the 2013-14 Green Schools Quest, a challenge issued by the U.S. Green Building Council-Missouri Gateway Chapter to public and private schools within the region to imagine and implement, with the help of green mentors, the most creative, effective and no or low cost sustainable practices for their schools. The Green Schools Quest then served as a framework to focus their efforts. The school was paired up with sustainability professional and volunteer Todd Bundren who served as Green Mentor and worked with the students and teacher throughout the school year. Once the team was established, they identified the unique needs and resources of their school, set goals, and took action. All the while, recording their progress and engaging the community in their efforts.

The team at NKMS decided to engage in three initiatives: a lights off campaign encouraging teachers and students to turn the lights off when not in use, a no idling initiative which educated and incentivized parents to turn their cars off when picking up students, and a composting program for lunchtime food waste.

Students had a lot to say about their experience. “My experience with the green schools quest was life changing. I learned so many things about the earth and how it functions,” remarked 7th Grader Mary. Fellow classmate Alex said, “I used to think that all we could do to change the environment was ask the government about something and hope they approve. But now I see that we can do more than that. I now see that a person can take his/her own initiative and help the environment.” And Chad commented, “During our project, we had to figure out how much our lighting in our daily life costs. When we got our numbers, we were amazed by the fact of how much money we were spending. Knowing this, we started to care a little more, and the more we knew, the more we wanted to learn and do. This competition really changed the way we think.”

NKMS was one of nearly 40 participating schools in the inaugural year of the Green Schools Quest, and came in 1st place in the Middle School division. Additional winners include:

  • Elementary – 1st Forsyth School, 2nd W.W. Keysor Elementary, 3rd Tillman Elementary;
  • Middle – 2nd The College School, 3rd The Governor French Academy and Maplewood Richmond Heights Middle School;
  • High – 1st Parkway Central, 2nd SLUH; Early Childhood – Maplewood Richmond Heights Early Childhood Center.

USGBC-MGC is looking for both schools and mentors to participate in the 2014-15 Green Schools Quest. Applications open May 2014. Projects will begin October 2014 and run through mid-March 2015. Each team will document their project’s impact throughout the Quest’s parameters and enter their results at the conclusion of the challenge. Cash awards and recognition await the student teams’ responses to the challenge. Learn more at www.usgbc-mogateway.org/green-school-quest.