Take A Page From Their Book: 9 Inspiring Eco-Healthy Schools

Take A Page From Their Book: 9 Inspiring Eco-Healthy Schools

Imagine sending your child to a school that not only teaches the essentials, but also reinforces the lifestyle you lead at home – eating organic foods, using non-toxic cleaners, appreciating nature. Sounds pretty dreamy, right? Fortunately, just as more households are adopting greener practices, so are more schools across the nation. Today, we’re featuring 9 that are going above and beyond to protect human and environmental health, all while offering endless lessons to students about the importance of doing so.

The Odyssey School - Denver, CO

A K-8 charter school, Odyssey doesn’t boast an award-winning eco-campus, but that’s perhaps because most of the learning happens outside the classroom – in nature itself. Odyssey relies on "expeditionary learning," that combines outdoor adventures with in-depth learning across disciplines. Kids learn about reading, writing, math, science, and life using Colorado's expansive great outdoors as their classroom.

Evergreen Community Charter School - Asheville, NC

This aptly named K-8 public charter school is nestled into the thick, green woods of the Appalachians and is featured in Tyson Miller’s “Dream of a Nation” as a national success model for environmental education. Not only is Richard Louv’s “Last Child In The Woods” required staff reading, teachers use cloth towels in the classroom, students bring their own utensils and cloth napkins for lunch, and the school also owns two biodiesel buses fueled by recycled cooking oil from hundreds of local restaurants. The school’s breathtaking grounds include rain gardens, native plantings, a strawbale and cob playhouse, a hoophouse for winter veggies, fruit bushes, a vegetable garden, and apple trees. An idyllic setting for education!

New Country School - Henderson, MN

The New Country School is a public charter school for kids in grades 7-12 with a uniquely open classroom environment. The school’s buildings are centered around a converted Harvestore grain silo with most of the school work being done in an open space 8,500 square foot atrium. All of the staff and students’ desks are in the atrium that creates a great environment for communication and helps foster their “No Child Left Unknown” program which recognizes every student as an individual. For the past decade, the school has also designed a car to participate in a Supermileage Vehicle competition.

Lucy School - Middletown, MD

At Lucy School, the three-year-old students sing a song as they wash their hands: “Turn off the water, don’t let it run. Save a little water for everyone.” It’s just one delightful example of how they integrate a love for art, nature, family, and the environment throughout the school day. The 17-acre campus has a pond, waterfall, wetlands, and a forest and at the center sits the only LEED Platinum school facility in the state (which also happens to be on the National Register of Historic Places!). One of the building’s features is a roof garden that catches and filters rainwater for the school’s toilets. Students spend at least an hour outdoors every day keeping nature journals, playing with tree “cookies,” and planting and harvesting their own organic garden.

Manassas Park Elementary School + Pre-K - Manassas, VA

A green light turns on by windows and students race to open them for natural ventilation at Manassas Park Elementary School (MPES). It’s a simple, but clever system for both getting fresh air into classrooms and engaging students in learning about air quality. The school’s architects VMDO designed this unique building around the premise that people can’t be expected to preserve and protect something they don’t understand. So, each classroom is themed after a local animal or plant that can be found in the adjacent forest – with ground dwelling creatures on the first floor, mid canopy flora on the second floor, and treetop/sky inhabitants on the third floor.

The Athenian School - Danville, CA

Solar panels generate 70 percent of the energy at this sunny, northern California school’s campus! The financial savings generated help support environmental stewardship programs like an annual field trip in which eleventh graders spend 26 days hiking, climbing, and camping in Death Valley as they participate in the Athenian Wilderness Experience. Not only that, in their science labs students learn how to create school bus biodiesel fuel, convert a car to electric power, design robotics, and even harvest and press olives. In full Cali style, the school offers almost all organic foods, fresh fruit all day for snacking, and weekly yoga classes for faculty and staff.

Sidwell Friends School - Washington, DC

Sidwell has a couple of claims to fame: Being the first K-12 LEED Platinum school in the world and being the chosen school of the POTUS and FLOTUS for their bright, young daughters. The campus of this urban gem is certified as wildlife habitat by the National Wildlife Federation, and the building itself uses 93 percent less water and 60 percent less energy than standard construction methods. Stewardship is in the DNA of this school’s curriculum and students have participated in environmental restoration and conservancy projects as far away as Alaska and Hawaii. They are also conducting a long-term study of the bee population on their campus along with the U.S. Geological Survey.

The STAR School - Flagstaff, AZ

By virtue of a commitment to sustainability and geographic isolation, this elementary charter school was the first in the nation to be completely off the power grid and it generates 100 percent of its energy through solar and wind generation. The school integrates sustainability and wellness issues into all of its curriculum to complement and continue the Navajo traditions of its entirely Native American student base, while also looking towards the future. Students plant and tend a garden using Navajo methods and serve traditionally prepared organic meals in the cafeteria, but they also have the opportunity to work with staff from Northern Arizona University to gather data on the school’s air, water, and soil quality, and to provide student mentoring in engineering and sciences.

Academy for Global Citizenship - Chicago, IL

Despite their location in the heart of an industrial neighborhood, at this elementary school in southwest Chicago they strive to learn in harmony with nature. The school has its own chickens which the students care for; they tend to the school garden with help from local farmers; they even run a zero waste food program and use their own compost to feed their gardens. Best of all, the students take this knowledge home with them to start their own home gardens no matter what kind of space limitations they have.

Inside and out, with new buildings and old, these schools and their staff and students are doing amazing things! In addition to everything they’re doing to reduce environmental impacts, protect health, and promote stewardship - the average green school also saves about $100,000 a year. It’s truly a win, win, win situation and we look forward to seeing these types of buildings and curriculum become the status quo.

Does your child’s school have any eco-healthy building features or programs? Share them in the comments!

Learn more about these schools and others featured in the U.S. Department of Education’s Green Ribbon Honoree’s List.

Images by VMDO Architects, featuring Manassas Park Elementary and Pre-K.

We aim to provide you with the most honest and credible information possible. This article was reviewed for accuracy by The Honest Team and was written based on trusted sources that are linked at the bottom of the article.