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Program rewards green Maryland schools - October 25, 2012

It’s near the end of October and that means school is in full swing. Kids across the country are honing their skills, but in Maryland education is not limited to the classroom.

The Maryland Green School Awards Program is an initiative created to reward and acknowledge schools that go above and beyond the classroom to include a variety of environmental and outdoor lessons, activities and events for their students, teachers and parents. Not every school in Maryland is a Green School; it’s a two-year application process that involves many partners, both locally and statewide.

The school may work with a certified Maryland Green School Center, such as the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, to design, implement and document the programs, activities and changes done by the school to further their students environmental and outdoor education.

There are five steps to becoming a Maryland Green School. The first thing a school must do is have teachers go to professional development events devoted to environmental education. It’s vital that teachers stay well-informed and up-to-date on current environmental issues and problems so that they can properly teach their students.

The next step is educating students on the environmental issues and topics. The environmental educational experiences can vary tremendously; some schools have gone on canoe or kayak trips to look at water quality and pollution while some have chosen to study individual organisms like horseshoe or blue crabs to get a better understanding of their life cycle and the problems they face.

The lessons can be closer to home, too, like measuring drips of water from a leaky faucet to see the amount of water wasted per day, month and year or observing what birds come to bird feeders, what they eat and if they leave to migrate during the year.

Apart from educating both teachers and students about the current environmental issues, schools must also celebrate the outdoors and being green. This can take a lot of different forms for different schools depending on what, how, when and where they plan on celebrating.

Some schools have had science and poster fairs showing the work they have done and the information they have gathered about the chosen environmental issues while others write articles for newspapers, blogs and green websites about what they have accomplished and what they plan to do for the future.

The schools also have to put into place a series of conservation best management practices that cut down on their waste, energy needs and pollution. The best management practices focus on reducing the environmental impact made by the school so they include things like water/energy conservation, habitat restoration and waste reduction. This can be simple like recycling, turning off lights and reporting leaky faucets to complex plans like creating a rain garden or changing to bio-degradable and bio-safe cleaning supplies.

Implementing best management practices school and countywide can have an immediate positive impact on the health of our local ecosystems that students, teachers and parents can observe.

Last but not least, the school must emphasize community outreach and encourage school-community partnerships. Local organizations interested in the environment and outdoors can partner with schools to do things in the community that benefit all parties.

An activity like marking storm drains will get the students out and active in their community, it will help the community partner by spreading its message faster to the community and it will help the environment because the community will throw less trash down the storm drains where it will eventually wash into our waterways. A strong connection between the school, community and local organizations benefits everyone.

Once all this is done, the school becomes an official Maryland Green School for the next four years, after which it has to re-apply using the same process. After a school becomes a green school, it receives a Green School flag, free native trees to plant and plaques, certificates and recognition.

Once a year there is a green school summit hosted by the Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education to celebrate the great work done by green schools across the state.

For more information about Maryland Green Schools, visit www.maeoe.org.


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