Guest Blog by Lindsay Snoddy, Assistant Director for Environmental Health and Safety Albemarle County PUblic Schools
Environmental stewardship has a long history in Albemarle County Public Schools. The School Board formalized an environmental management policy in 2006 and honors their commitment to support programs for continual improvement. A program that began its focus on environmental compliance quickly grew to include sustainability and unique offerings for project-based learning, leading first to Crozet Elementary and then Stony Point Elementary School receiving US DOE Green Ribbon School Awards. Individual recognition of these schools was followed by the entire division being honored in 2017 with a district-wide US DOE Green Ribbon Schools District Sustainability Award.
Our Division’s sustainability program and environmental education programs also have led to our focus on energy efficiency and now 22 of our schools have earned the EPA ENERGY STAR label – a visible symbol to taxpayers that our schools are operating efficiently even as our students are learning to conserve energy in classrooms, cafeterias, bathrooms, and at home.
Environmental stewardship and sustainability programs allow us to provide opportunities to develop lifelong-learner skills while respecting and preserving natural resources and saving money. In addition to the US DOE Green Ribbon Award and the Energy Star Awards, the Division has also been recognized by the Virginia School Boards Association with a first place Go Green Virginia Challenge Award as well as the seventh annual Platinum recognition award as a division that, through policy and actions, practices conservation, sustainability, environmental education, and energy efficiency.
Many teachers and students have developed projects with an environmental focus – a few highlights follow.
Students recently designed and painting a storm drain mural at Monticello High School to educate all visitors on preventing storm water pollution.
Six schools (Agnor-Hurt, Stone-Robinson, Jouett, Monticello, Hollymead and Burley) are planning their designs for painting VDOT plows with environmental themes – the plows with student artwork will be seen around town throughout the winter storm season.
Students use the ambient air quality monitoring station at Albemarle High School to analyze particulate matter and ozone levels in our area. The station is operated by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, and they offer operator tours of the sampling equipment.
Students also help with analysis of utility data from our school buildings and building site verification necessary to apply for the US Environmental Protection Agency ENERGY STAR label.
Students enjoy eating local menu items, like the hummus platter from The Farm at Red Hill, and learning from local farmers during Farm to School Week.
Teachers participated in a NEED solar workshop to learn about renewable energy technologies at our schools. Students can work with real-time data from solar photovoltaic systems at Henley, AHS, MHS, Brownsville, Baker-Butler, Greer, and Sutherland. These systems were put into place as the result of project work by students who lobbied at the state and local level to gain support for adding solar panels to our school roofs.
Students can recharge as they relax at solar picnic tables at Albemarle High School, Western Albemarle High School, and Sutherland Middle School.
Western Albemarle High School students conduct an annual waste audit and created art work from recycled materials.
Some programs require frequent attention such as commercial composting in our cafeterias and recycling. Several schools tend their plants in vegetable gardens and greenhouses…and pollinator gardens. Students can see our resident pollinators at Monticello High School and Western Albemarle High School.
The MHS beekeeping club has been hard at work to establish their hives and tend to their bees. The School Board members have even sampled the honey from the first harvest at MHS. Future plans include turning the club into a small business for marketing and selling their honey to the community.
Our school facility operations contribute to learning directly and indirectly. We focus on indoor air quality and thermal comfort to create healthy learning environments. By utilizing an integrated pest management program, we monitor for pest activity and only utilize pesticides when other control methods have failed. To further improve the quality of our instructional environments, the School Board recently voted to proceed with new dimmable LED lighting in all classrooms that currently have fluorescent lighting. This project creates enough utility savings to pay for itself through an energy performance contract. The more energy-efficient lighting will reduce electricity consumption by over 6,000,000 kWh and 3,700 tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year.
Our work to educate both students and our staff about their environmental impact and to make thoughtful decisions that lead to conservation of our natural resources represents our division’s commitment to sustainability and lifelong learning.