When high school teacher Greta Kochevar agreed to be the Green & Healthy Schools coordinator, she had no idea where it would lead. She was tasked with overseeing all district environmental projects, review of district curriculum, integrating school gardens with the district food service program, and offering professional development for all staff.
Three years later, Washburn School District was invited to the White House House to be recognized by the U.S. Department of Education for participating in garden planting. All of their schools have been recognized at the Sugar Maple level through Green & Healthy Schools Wisconsin.
“It’s easy to lose sight of the simple fact that what’s good and healthy for students is also good for the staff, and for the environment. We’re always looking for win-win-win opportunities.” Kochevar says. “Making changes to school culture and developing new initiatives takes leadership, cooperation and time, but with coordinated effort put forth up front, our green and healthy practices have become integrated into the regular school culture so that not only our curriculum and classroom activities improve the health of our students, staff, and environment, but also our school systems.”
In order to reduce Washburn’s environmental impact and lower costs, the district implemented a variety of energy-saving initiatives. The district upgraded lighting, switched from electric to natural gas hot water heaters, implemented district-wide recycling, and composted garden waste. A team of students created a community outreach recycling program where they collected shiny paper from the school and businesses and brought it to a recycling center. To reduce transportation emissions, classrooms take walking field trips instead of using buses whenever possible. To manage its prairie restoration project, the district uses goats to eat invasive vegetation.
Students and staff alike enjoy the annual All School Walk Around the Block as part of Week of the Young Child. Thirty minutes of daily outdoor recess is provided for elementary and middle school students, and brain breaks get the students moving for an additional 20-30 minutes per day. Students regularly engage in snowshoeing, skating, cross-country skiing, and canoeing. The Washburn Portrait of a Graduate program focuses on creating physically, socially, and emotionally healthy students.
The district is home to a forested 40-acre environmental learning site. The school grounds include a 6,400 square foot vegetable garden and orchard, a steep sledding hill, a forested area for interpretive play, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife habitat restoration site, a pond, and an outdoor classroom that overlooks Lake Superior.
The large space has provided optimal conditions for an interdisciplinary outdoor learning space. The school gardens give hands-on opportunities for teachers to enhance their curriculum outdoors, especially in environmental and cultural topics, while building relationships with students. Examples include the Agripreneur Program, aquaponics lab, Monarch butterfly study, and the addition of several sustainability-based classes. Students grow tall milkweed and common milkweed to sell to people in the community who want to start their own butterfly gardens.
Washburn also was one of the first school districts in the state to adopt the AmeriCorps Farm-to-School program, which provides an innovative approach to improving childhood nutrition and decreasing obesity through healthy eating habits and increasing access to local foods. Through this program, Washburn students plant, harvest, and cook from the school garden every year, and have planted fruit trees that will provide apples. The district was featured by the DPI for theses efforts in the latest 3-minute video feature from the Wisconsin School Meals Rock series.
It’s safe to say that Washburn School District has embraced environmental responsibility and sustainability education. They’ve made it an integral part of the school culture and curriculum.
Want to become a Green Ribbon School?
To learn more about how your school can be a Green Ribbon School, visit the DPI Green Ribbon Schools website. Check out Washburn School District’s Green Ribbon school profile and read their application for more information on the program. Applications are due by December 1, 2017.