What does it take to be a Green Ribbon school?

As a rookie social studies teacher in Fairfax, Va., Levi Brown was troubled that his school was not recycling paper.

"I took empty copy paper boxes and sent an email to all the staff asking if I could put a box in their rooms" to collect discarded paper, recounted Brown, principal of Clarendon Hills Middle School.

A great plan, until he realized the school had no recycling dumpster.

"I went around and got them and piled them all in my car and I brought them to where I was living," he said, quipping that the Friday afternoon undertaking was not exactly ideal for his social life.

With the partnership of the CHMS community, Brown's longstanding eco-friendly drive was publicly validated last week when the school was named a 2024 Green Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education. As fate would have it, Brown was in Washington D.C. chaperoning eighth-graders when the news broke. Brown even considered attending the White House symposium in connection with the announcement until he learned it was full.

"We're incredibly honored to be recognized for our sustainability efforts," he said of the accolade.

Green Ribbon status, which Brown had applied for the past three years, reflects CHMS' emphasis on environmental responsibility and fostering a healthy place to learn. He cited large elements such as the school's towering wind turbine installed more than a decade ago as well as smaller initiatives like on-site lunch composting.

"Eco Club is a huge piece of this," he said of the compost crew. "They use that compost to fertilize a garden of all native pollinators."

Brown partnered with Mike Duggan, director of facilities for Community Consolidated Elementary District 181, to identify ways to improve the physical plant through water and energy efficiency measures, which comprises one-third of the Green Ribbon application.

"A more efficient chiller unit was installed a couple years ago, and water bottle refilling stations were installed," he said.

The use of LED lights, sunlight-dimming film on south-facing windows and staff training on switching off lights in empty rooms are all part of the formula.

"The kids have been out at the Living Classroom all week because the weather's been so good," said Brown, referencing the PTO-funded outdoor area for science lessons and other activities.

He was intentional in his application to include as many of those elements as possible.

"I'm not good at bragging about all the things that we're doing at this school," Brown acknowledged.

There are plenty of people to brag about, too.

"You get nothing done without relationships," he said. "Everybody's involved. It was a big collective effort."

Brown's said the school won't rest on its laurels, noting a vision for electric car charging stations in the parking lot and adding more solar panels on the school's south side.

"Just because we got the (Green Ribbon) doesn't mean we're going to stop," Brown said.

- by Ken Knutson

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean