Green Education Coming to a School Near You


Aug 31, 2016

Just across from Pipeline Philly—home base of The GREEN Program—stands City Hall, where Mayor Kenney and Superintendent Dr. William Hite joined forces to make the Philadelphia School District more sustainable. On May 16th, they publicized a five-year sustainability plan called, GreenFutures according to  

Philadelphia’s citywide sustainability plan, Greenworks, originally inspired the creation of GreenFutures. GreenFutures takes sustainability education to the next level by not only implementing sustainability learning into school curriculum but also by integrating these practices into the liveliness of the school district.

GREEN alumna and current Drexel student, Meredith Raphelson, shares her perspective as a student. While working in several Philadelphia schools during her co-op, she observed, “It was during my time in the schools that I realized schools especially in Philadelphia had zero sustainability put into place.”

GreenFutures hopes to correct Raphelson’s concern. While GreenFutures’ official site is still developing, an outline of GreenFutures is available for viewing that states the plan, “aims to make every school a green school that will better serve our students and communities.” 

Superintendent Hite said of the new plan, “It is an opportunity for all of us in our own way to contribute to every child’s health and well-being, both at school and in our communities, and to preserve our environment for the future,” says

Likewise, Mayor Kenney agreed saying, “Young people will learn good habits on sustainability and energy and nutrition and health in school, where they spend the bulk of their time…If we’re not talking about those things, then it’s never going to get to them,” according to  

Raphelson also shared upon learning of GreenFutures, “I am very happy to hear about the GreenFutures program. I think that Philadelphia is taking great steps into a more sustainable future, and it starts by teaching the new generations what sustainability is all about.”

The five-year plan centers on five areas of focus: Education for Sustainability, Consumption and Waste, Energy and Efficiencies, School Greenscapes, and Healthy Schools, Healthy Living. But what do these points really entail?

Photo: capstone project

Education for Sustainability

The Cloud Institute of Sustainability Education defines Education for Sustainability (EfS) as a “transformative learning process that equips students, teachers, and school systems with the new knowledge and ways of thinking we need to achieve for economic prosperity and responsible citizenship while restoring the health of living systems upon which our lives depend.”

According to the GreenFutures outline, EfS will be infused into school curriculum, administrative practices, and family engagement. Green Schools National Network elaborates that GreenFutures expects to integrate EfS into the district’s culture by “identifying an EfS point of contact for every school, creating and facilitating Professional Learning Communities and Green Teams, and setting standards for lessons, projects, and/or units across all grade levels and subjects.” GreenFutures has also fostered partnerships with both Eco-Schools USA and the Philadelphia Zoo to help teachers develop EfS into the curriculum.  

Consumption and Waste

Consumption and Waste focuses on ensuring that every student attends a school that undertakes waste reduction in order to divert landfill waste (GreenFutures outline). Plans were made to carry out recycling programs for each school with the end goal being to increase waste diversion by 10% by GreenFutures’ projected completion date in five years (Green Schools National Network). 

Additionally, the Consumption and Waste point of GreenFutures urges schools to participate in Paperless Fridays and is also raising money for a Recycling Road Show. According to Green Schools National Network, “The Recycling Road Show, if funded, will consist of an interactive Material Recycling Facility (MRF) display that ideally will be designed and constructed by students enrolled in the Career and Technology Education Program.” The MRF display will serve as a teaching tool for students involved with the Recycling Road Show. 

Energy and Efficiencies

The GreenFutures outline explains that the goal of Energy and Efficiencies is to “reduce spending on energy so that funds can be used for education, instill a culture of energy conservation throughout the District, and reduce the environmental and human health impacts associated with fossil fuel combustion.”

Green Schools National Network expresses the Philadelphia School District’s lack of efficiency, particularly with energy and water consumption. Therefore, GreenFutures’ goal to reduce energy consumption by 20% is no easy task. To accomplish this goal, GreenFutures found help from Practical Energy Solutions, a consulting firm that will institute an energy education program in each school. One element of this program requires each school receiving an energy consumption tracking toolkit. 

School Greenscapes

The fourth point of the plan concentrates on providing every student access to “outdoor learning environments that integrate stormwater management, play areas for passive and active recreation, and community resources into green spaces,” which is stated in the GreenFutures outline.  

School Greenscapes intends to create five green spaces each year for the five-year period of the plan, despite the struggle to do so in an urban setting. The Green School National Network affirms that the Philadelphia School District “plans to work with partners such as the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the Philadelphia Water Department, and the Trust for Public Land to develop programming and curriculum that transform green schoolyards into outdoor classrooms.” Class outside will become much more commonplace than just every one in a while with that one, supposedly cool teacher.

Healthy Schools, Healthy Living

Finally, the GreenFutures outline explains that GreenFutures strives to provide “a well-resourced, safe, healthy, clean and comfortable school that is conducive to learning” to every student in the last point, Healthy Schools, Healthy Living.  

GreenFutures’ motivation is to build a “multi-faceted, holistic healthy school model that can be easily replicated across every school in the district,” according to Green School National Network. In order to complete Healthy Schools, Healthy Living, GreenFutures will create health guidelines which will help schools recognize and fix problems in order to ultimately meet the health guidelines. The guidelines encompass a wide variety of health aspects including, indoor environmental quality, nutrition and farm to table, physical activity, and mental health to name a few (Green School National Network). 

Raphelson admits that she thinks the hardest part about accomplishing GreenFutures will be “teaching some of the teachers to follow the plan. A lot of people are not willing to change their daily habits to something completely new after several years of practicing them. The plan needs to get everyone on board to make it as successful as possible.” 

The sustainable changes children experience at school can even become a part of dinnertime conversation when parents inevitably ask, “What happened at school, today?” Raphelson notes, “Most of the time as students, the information learned in school is then reflected back at home. When that is the case, I think learning sustainability in school will benefit students as they not only practice it in school but back at home when they tell their parents about it.” 

If everything goes according to plan by 2021, then the Philadelphia School District will have successfully implemented sustainability education and practices for the city’s public schools along with earning extra greenie points for Philadelphia on the most sustainable cities list!

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