University City School District and Principia School Honored as 2022 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools

By Ben Freiman, Missouri Green Schools AmeriCorps VISTA

Photo Caption: Left: University City hosts a “Growing Together” event for artwork, yoga, and tree planting. Right: Students from Principia studying forest dynamics.

This Earth Day, the U.S. Department of Education announced the 2022 Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) honorees, including Principia School (St. Louis) and University City School District, among those recognized annually for exemplary environmental stewardship. The awardees were nominated by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, in partnership with Missouri Green Schools.

The ED-GRS award recognizes schools that implement systemic practices to promote health and wellness, reduce environmental impact, and increase sustainability literacy.

Principia’s green journey centered on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), presenting students with opportunities to create solutions to complex issues. In 2021, Principia launched its Impact Challenge, an all ages challenge for students at several local schools to present plans regarding the SDGs to relevant experts. To support continued learning, Principia offers professional development to teachers to creatively incorporate the SDGs into daily curriculum.

The school also launched student-led affinity groups supporting students of color, LGBTQ+ students, and international students to better integrate all students into the work of the school. Principia’s students, in turn, are involved in sustainability programs on campus, including the design of a recently constructed permaculture orchard.

Lynne Scott, Sustainability Coordinator, says: “We are so thankful to have received this award as it has allowed us to celebrate our accomplishments in integrating sustainability into our curriculum and practices. This process has also increased our intentionality around ways in which we can improve our practices moving forward as there is always more to learn and to do.”

University City School District centered racial equity and social-emotional learning in their green journey. They utilized the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) model to inform their work, including staff training, academics, student health initiatives, and environmental work. By centering “Joy and Well-Being” in all district work, University City offers students everything from wellness lounges to trauma specialists, public art events to a Restorative Practices course, and even a special “walk with llamas”’ event.

In their commitment to the health of students and communities, the district constructed two LEED certified elementary schools, and added a rain garden to every school, totaling over 49,000 square feet. University City School District further distributed nearly one million meals to families between March 2020 and August 2021.

Dr. Sharonica Hardin-Bentley, superintendent, says: “As educators, we owe it to our students and our local and global community to be as responsive to and appreciative of the environment as possible. The environment includes our social-emotional well-being and support. Yes, racial equity matters! Our youth will be tasked with the restoration of our living planet while solving very real issues of scarcity, sustainability, and racially unjust systems. The Green Ribbon School designation is an honor that speaks to us and the future holistic wellness.”

If you would like to follow Principia and University City School District’s footsteps, visit www.MissouriGreenSchools.org and sign your school up for this free support and recognition program. You can also see Dr. Hardin-Bentley from University City School District present at USGBC-Missouri Gateway’s Annual Green Building Showcase on May 10. Missouri Green Schools is a joint program of the USGBC-Missouri Gateway Chapter and the Missouri Environmental Education Association.