Going green is not just a slogan for some Washington State schools. They are doing their part to teach our children life-long lessons about sustainability and stewardship of the environment.

“Kids are very creative and once we get them involved, they carry the concept even further than we imagined,” said Laurie James, coordinator of the Green Ribbon Schools project at Discovery Elementary School in Everett, Washington. Discovery Elementary is a 2015 National Green Ribbon Schools honoree.

The U.S. Department of Education urges schools and school districts across the nation to build sustainable programs using three key pillars:

  1. Reduce environmental impacts and costs
  2. Improve the health and wellness of schools, students and staff
  3. Provide environmental education, which teaches many disciplines, especially in incorporating STEM, civic skills and green career pathways

Answering the challenge has resulted in schools that have reduced operating costs, which enabled administrators to dedicate more resources to instruction. It also promotes more student engagement and staff pride and productivity.

Discovery Elem

Discovery Elementary now has recycling and composting bins around the campus, a community garden and new fruit trees that produce a crop every year. The environmental message has been integrated into the curriculum, including health, science and math classes. Students create and build solar projects, set up bee hives, measure how much mulch and other organic material the garden will need, and learn about fresh foods and nutrition.

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For Laurie James, it was more than just tackling a set of stated goals. “This has brought children from a variety of backgrounds together, building life-long lessons about sustainability and stewardship of the environment. The end result is not only children who have a new appreciation for how they can impact the future, but it also encourages family and community involvement.”

Another 2015 Washington Green Ribbon designee is Hillcrest Elementary School in Oak Harbor. Just like Discovery, the efforts at Hillcrest Elementary are student driven. There is a heavy emphasis on the garden; incorporating science, math and other curriculum. Students measure and design the best configuration for planting the gardens, and weigh, graph and calculate how much peat moss is needed to balance food scraps used in the compost bins. They also use real life marketing and accounting principles as they sell eggs from the chickens now raised at the school. Proceeds are donated to the local food bank.

Principal Paula Seaman said that being a Green Ribbon school has been a source of pride for the students and staff. “Other schools in our district are constantly visiting and working to set up a garden like ours,” she said. “We have been awarded more grants because of our designation…including $2,000 to enhance our garden. The award has united our community and students. They are committed to making Earth a better, safer and greener planet and know their contributions make a difference.”

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While achieving Green Ribbon School status is a great honor, there is a missing piece to the process. Each year, schools and districts that meet the stringent criteria are honored in Washington, D.C., but can only attend if they have the funds to make the trip. For many Washington State honorees, that can be a challenge.

Attending a program honoring the hard work of students, staff and the community shouldn’t be a burden. Seeing the need, California Casualty stepped in as the 2016 local sponsor of the Washington Green Ribbon Schools program, providing some travel and lodging expenses. As a long-time partner with the NEA Member Benefits in Washington, California Casualty is committed and honored to serve educators.

“Having this financial support takes the sting out of the cost of being recognized,” said James. “It will relieve the stress of fundraising and is one less hurdle to overcome in this important process.”

California Casualty congratulates the 2016 Green Ribbon award winners announced this Earth Day: Bethel and Issaquah School Districts, Columbia Crest A-STEM Academy (Ashford), Gaiser Middle School (Vancouver) and Lakota Middle School (Federal Way). We are proud to help support a program that benefits the environment and future generations of students while highlighting the best in Washington State schools.

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