JACKSON — The U.S. Department of Education has named the Elms Elementary School in Jackson a national Green Ribbon School.
On Earth Day, April 22, U.S. Department of Education administrators announced the 2022 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools, District Sustainability Awardees and Postsecondary Sustainability Awardees, according to a press release.
Across the United States, 27 schools, five districts and four postsecondary institutions were honored for their innovative efforts to reduce environmental impact and utility costs, improve health and wellness, and ensure effective sustainability education, according to the press release.
“This year’s U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools honorees have raised the bar for sustainability, healthy and safe school environments, and hands-on learning experiences that connect students of all ages to the world around them,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said.
“As we recover from a pandemic that highlighted the need to modernize school infrastructure, improve ventilation and create versatile indoor and outdoor learning spaces, we have an opportunity to invest in sustainable practices that enhance student learning, health and well-being.
“At the Department of Education, I am proud we are proposing to establish a new Office of Infrastructure and Sustainability to support state and local leaders on these efforts, and that we have named a special adviser to this vital work,” Cardona said.
The honorees were named from a pool of candidates nominated by 19 states.
“I could not think of an initiative that is more important than teaching our kids about sustainability efforts, recycling and the challenges we face as a society with climate change,” Elms Principal Michael Burgos said in a statement provided by the Jackson School District.
“The reality is our students are our leaders of tomorrow, and I am so proud of the leadership our student green team and the entire school has exhibited in this area,” Burgos said.
Among the many features that earned Elms the honor is an on-site aquaponics system, which engages students in learning about sustainable farming practices and a balanced ecosystem, according to district administrators.
Lessons in sustainability and environmental challenges focus on water conservation, plastic accumulation in oceans, pollinator declines, beach erosion, renewable transportation alternatives, invasive species’ impacts on wildlife, and global access to clean water.
Students participate in Trout in the Classroom, raising eggs and releasing the fingerlings. All grade levels travel on local nature-based field trips, including Cattus Island, the Manasquan Reservoir, the Forest Resource Education Center in Jackson and Jenkinson’s Aquarium.
In the school courtyard, rain barrels irrigate the sensory garden and refill the 500-gallon aquaponics system. Students participate in recycling programs such as Crayola ColorCycle, Trex plastic recycling and on-site composting, and contribute to a food share table and a local food pantry to reduce waste, according to district administrators.
“Watching students and staff engage, care and want to make a change in our environment truly gives me hope for the future,” Burgos said. “I am so proud of our school and I am very grateful for this coveted recognition.”
The Elms Green Team is led by teachers Shaina Brenner, Sheryl Konopack and Jessica Fioretti, Assistant Principal Shawn Levinson and Burgos, and is assisted at the district level by Jackson School District Energy Education Specialist John Blair.
School representatives will be honored in July in a ceremony in Washington, D.C.
“The efforts of the Elms Green Team and the students and staff at Elms have done a tremendous job of leading by example,” Superintendent of Schools Nicole Pormilli said. “Their energy, commitment and enthusiasm for sustainability and environmental responsibility can be felt throughout the school and is truly a model of excellence.”
Pormilli said she is particularly proud that Elms is the second school in the district to earn this distinction. In 2021, the Switlik Elementary School earned the same award.
In a document that was submitted to federal officials, Elms Elementary School administrators wrote, in part, that “Elms Elementary School’s sustainability efforts support district-wide initiatives. … Heating and cooling are provided by a geothermal system. Over the past 12 months, the school has installed LED lighting upgrades with controls, high
efficiency transformers, new HVAC controls, plug load controls, and destratification fans in our gym through an Energy Savings Improvement Plan.
“ … To reduce wasting water, aerators were installed on faucets to reduce the amount of water used by controlling the stream and particles. To eliminate use of disposable water bottles, a water bottle filling station was installed … Student Green Teams focus on recycling, gardening, energy conservation, and sustainability.
” … To reduce food waste and provide extra nutrition for students in need, students place unwanted whole fruits and prepackaged food items on a community table in the cafeteria which is available to students during an after-school program. Any remaining is then donated to the Jackson Food Pantry and a local nonprofit animal rescue.
” … Elms has a strong commitment to educating a generation of children that are
aware and care about the environment. … Elms has embedded sustainability into an interdisciplinary curriculum that is engaging, transformative and supports existing course learning objectives,” school administrators wrote.