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On May 4, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) led a tour of Brookland Middle School in Ward 5 with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. The mayor used the tour of the school to show the secretary-general how D.C. was becoming a greener place. (Courtesy Photos)

The District of Columbia has fully embraced the “Go Green” movement and the public schools offer a window into the District’s commitment.

On May 4, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) led a tour of Brookland Middle School in Ward 5 with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon as her guest. Ki-Moon was in the District participating in the Climate Action 2016 conference and Bowser, who spoke earlier at the event, wanted to show him an example of how the city is working to become greener.

Brookland is considered a model for District schools because it has a green outdoor classroom, a solar learning station, geothermal heating and cooling system, exterior green wall, underground cisterns, and a solar rooftop array, among other amenities. Newly built schools such as Ballou, Wilson, and Roosevelt have green features as well.

However, the District has gone further than just the buildings. Green education is an instructional tool for all students K-12. In 2010, D.C. Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) passed a bill, The Healthy Schools Act of 2010, that focused on providing healthy nutritious meals for District public school children and created a “D.C. Environmental Literacy Plan” that, in essence, incorporates green education into the general school curriculum.

The purpose of the environmental literacy plan is to incorporate into the schools’ the value of sustainability and attempt to get young people to become good stewards of their natural surroundings. “What we try to accomplish through our program is to convince students, but also teachers, the importance of learning about the environment,” Rebecca Davis, past president of the D.C. Environmental Education Consortium, told the AFRO. “For example, you have students who live near the I-295 corridor in Northeast and Southeast Washington but may not know how the exhaust from the cars and trucks that use that highway affects their air quality.”

The consortium, founded in 1993, has a mission to bolster the network of environmental and conservation educators in the school system and to increase their capacity to provide meaningful environmental education for the District’s students and residents.

According to Fred Lewis, Office of the State Superintendent, funding for green/environmental education programs come from both federal and District taxpayers and agencies. There are some school-based programs that have no cost and some programs are the products of fundraising efforts by the schools.

The consortium works closely with the Office of State Superintendent of Education’s D.C. Environmental Literacy Coordinator Grace Manubay. Manubay’s job is to implement the environmental literacy plan, formalized in 2012, with other city agencies, the public and charter school systems, and the University of the District of Columbia.

Manubay told the AFRO there are a number of programs that are in place and being developed to make students in the District’s education sector more green aware. While many of the programs are science-based, Manubay said other disciplines are also included.

“In the field of art, students at Tyler Elementary School had an ‘Earth Day’ contest in which they created art that dealt with recycling and we had a school that dealt with climate change in one-minute films,” she said. “In the high schools, we are focusing on public speaking contest on environmental topics and at Cesar Chavez Charter School they had to complete a pollution project.”

Black students make up the overwhelming majority of students in the District’s public schools and their needs haven’t been ignored. “We have a program through the Department of Energy and the Environment where students in Wards 7 and 8 are immersed in the study of the Chesapeake Bay. In 2013-2014 school years, the program had 19 participants and we have expanded this year to 64. “Our goal is to see this program go across the city to all of the schools.”

There are program for teachers and principals in the form of fellowships and study tours. One program has principals sponsored by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has principals from the District spend a number of days on one of the islands of the Chesapeake Bay. Manubay wants to set up an environmental education certification program for teachers and school administrators along with continuing efforts to make the District school curriculum green friendly.