For students throughout metro Detroit, reducing, reusing and recycling is turning their schools Green, Emerald, and Evergreen.
These three classifications are the result of a growing statewide dedication to eco-friendly education and environmental activities through the Michigan Green Schools program.
The program, with a commitment to assisting all Michigan schools "achieve environmental goals," is celebrating its eighth year in operation. Just 18 schools participated in the program during the 2006 inaugural year, but today there are over 700 schools participating in the Michigan Green Schools program, and southeast Michigan schools are leading the movement. More than 400 of the 700 participating schools are in Oakland, Wayne, and Macomb counties.
For Debby Dunn, Oakland Schools' Michigan Green Schools coordinator, the program is not just benefiting the earth today -- it's changing the way young students will interact with the environment in the future.
"If I can get them to think about it in first grade and continue it once in high school and into adulthood, it means our program made an impact," Dunn says.
Dunn, along with her co-coordinator Whitney Calio, is in charge of annually reviewing applications of Oakland County schools seeking "green status." They also award schools Green, Emerald or Evergreen designations and celebrate the green achievements of schools at an annual ceremony.
"The program gives the schools a small piece of recognition for accomplishments already being done and also helps get those schools started on creating a small green program," Dunn said.
Green, Emerald and Evergreen designations don't come easy -- schools are awarded different designations based on a points system. Points can be acquired through the school or students performing an array of environmental activities, ranging anywhere between visiting nature centers to adopting a school animal. In order to be counted, all activities must revolve around one of four of the program's main categories: reduce/reuse/recycle, energy, environmental protection and miscellaneous green activities.
To become an Evergreen school, the highest honor a Michigan Green School can receive, students must participate in 20 total activities per year, with at least two activities focusing on each of the four main categories.
Michelle Mineau is the chairperson of the PTA Go Green Committee at University Hills Elementary in Rochester Hills, which has earned the coveted Evergreen designation for several years.
Mineau, a parent with two girls attending the school, also leads the Eco Eagles -- an environmental club for first through third graders.
"Our motto is, 'Go green! Learn it! Live it!' and that's what we strive to impart upon the students," Mineau says. "Once they learn about green choices, like the three Rs, they happily embrace lifestyles that are very environmentally friendly."
The Eco Eagles have been hard at work maintaining University Hill's Evergreen status. The children have worked on growing vegetables in several raised beds on school grounds (and feasting on the green beans later), decorating school recycling bins and participating in Sunflower Power -- a school-wide event that encourages students to plant sunflowers for animals to enjoy.
The Michigan Green Schools program provides designations to schools ranging from pre-kindergartens to senior high schools. Though her group of students may be young, Mineau acknowledges the benefits of encouraging early environmental education.
"It's so cool because living in a sustainable, earth-conscious way is all they know, so it comes easily to them," Mineau says. "We try to expose our students to opportunities where they can connect with the outside world and build an attitude of stewardship toward all living things. They feel needed, which is very empowering."
Dunn agrees with the importance of early "green" education. She believes the skills and conclusions kids draw from the Michigan Green Schools program will carry weight as students become adults who make an impact.
"Their ideas will help fuel a sustainable world -- where we still can enjoy green spaces, fresh water and clean air. Without these, the world would cease to exist," Dunn says.
To learn more about the Michigan Green Schools program and to learn how to become a "green" school, please visit: http://www.michigangreenschools.us/
This piece was made possible through a partnership with InspirED Michigan, a project of the Michigan Public Schools Partnership. MPSP is a coalition of more than 50 education-related organizations, school districts and individuals committed to promoting the good news about Michigan public schools. To subscribe to the monthly e-newsletter, click here.