Getting collaborative on greening the nation’s schools

Getting collaborative on greening the nation’s schools

(D.C.) A group of 21 school districts, including several of the largest in the country, have joined forces to promote environmental education and influence policies that will lead to more energy efficient, sustainable school facilities.

As a new coalition within the existing Green Schools Alliance, the GSA District Collaborative is an effort to harness the collective capacity of those districts already committed to greener practices, to share those methods and to leverage their combined purchasing power to increase greater access to sustainable alternatives.

“GSA’s vision has always been to affect change on a national and global scale,” Margaret Watson, GSA founder and president, said in a statement. “When schools come together to create a global green school community and connect across generations, socioeconomics and geopolitics, we can make giant leaps of progress from many small steps.”

The national conversation on the need for cleaner, more energy-efficient schools has gradually garnered more political backing as research has continued to show that students learn better in these modern facilities due to improved physical and mental health.

President Barack Obama in his first term included some $30 million in his American Jobs Act to both boost the sustainable schools effort and simultaneously stimulate the economy. Individual states have undertaken their own efforts to replace or repair worn-out facilities that include energy-efficient clean-air systems, lighting and windows as well as sustainable power systems such as solar. Though the long-term benefits are undeniable – districts can save millions in energy costs and healthy children don’t miss as much school – the initial costs can be prohibitive.

Over the years, according to a release from the U.S. Department of Education, school facility officials have been  frustrated over higher prices for more sustainable products and policies that encumbered their work. This sparked a conversation about collaborating to affect major change, particularly in purchasing. Instead of creating their own separate association, the department reports, they asked the Green Schools Alliance to house their coalition.

“Represented by their sustainability personnel, these districts have formed the GSA District Collaborative to accelerate hands-on environmental action in school communities across the nation,” a GSA press release stated.

As part of the Green Schools Alliance, the 21-member District Collaborative has committed to focusing on the GSA’s three key priorities: Reducing climate and ecological impact; educating and engaging their communities, and connecting students to nature.

The District Collaborative also plans to develop programs that directly impact students, including project-based STEAM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Art-Mathematics) initiatives and online youth leadership training programs for middle and high school students.

Eight districts within the collaborative are among the 12 largest districts in the country, collectively affecting the lives of 3.6 million children in 5,726 schools with more than 550 million square feet of building area.

The charter members of the District Collaborative are:

San Diego Unified School District, CA

San Francisco Unified School District, CA

Oakland Unified School District, CA

Denver Public Schools, CO

District of Columbia Public Schools, DC

Broward County Public Schools, FL

Orange County Public Schools, FL

The School District of Palm Beach County, FL

Chicago Public Schools, IL

Fayette County Public Schools, KY

Lincoln Public Schools, NE

Boston Public Schools, MA

Detroit Public Schools, MI

Kansas City Public Schools, MO

Clark County School District, NV

Clark County School District, NV

New York City Department of Education, NY

The School District of Philadelphia, PA

Austin Independent School District, TX

Houston Independent School District, TX

Fairfax County Public Schools, VA

Virginia Beach City Public Schools, VA

GSA, founded in 2007, is an international organization of schools seeking to improve sustainability and work together to address environmental education and operational challenges. Member schools range from small, rural indigenous schools in India to the largest districts in the U.S. as well as many independent schools nationwide.