Opting out of Green Ribbon Schools, but the need to showcase and celebrate persists

For champions of the green schools movement, the U.S. Department of Education’s Green Ribbon Schools award program –now in its pilot year—is an exciting opportunity to gain national recognition for years of hard work transforming the way we design, build, and operate schools.  Thirty three states, the District of Columbia and the Bureau of Indian Education have opted into the program and plan to nominate schools this January with a goal of announcing winners in April. The Mid Atlantic is strongly represented in this pack vying for an award; states such as Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey and New York plan to participate. In New England, however, Rhode Island is currently the only state to step forward as a contender. This came as a disappointment to some green school advocates, especially in Massachusetts, a state known to be a pioneer, having built and designed over 70 high performance schools since 2006.  Advocates there are working with the education Commissioner to reconsider his decision to sit this year out of the competition. What caused the low rate of participation in New England? Some states feel that the Green Ribbon Schools program ultimately requires too many hours of staff time—and not enough “return on investment”—to be worth the effort it takes to apply. While winners will undoubtedly benefit from the recognition, there is currently no monetary reward as part of the program. The coming months will be a momentous time in the world of green schools.  Because of the diligent and daring work of the green school community, thousands of students are now breathing clean air, taking exams in natural daylight, compositing their lunch scraps, and monitoring their building’s energy use. Many more schools—especially those in rural and urban areas—are still in need of extensive repair and programming.  In order to gain even greater ground, we need more success stories and resources to drive further innovation and progress so that all students have the opportunity to learn in healthy, energy efficient and high performance buildings. The Green Ribbon School award program is one way to recognize the value and potential of high performance schools.  However, if most states in the Northeast opt out, then it’s time to think creatively about how we can recognize their achievement through other channels. Let’s get cracking.

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