A mighty movement is growing in New Jersey’s schools and districts. While sustainability at one time was barely a factor in classroom conversations, there are now hundreds of new green teams in the public schools, all charged with driving change on sustainability issues.

The green crusade is facilitated by Sustainable Jersey for Schools, which provides school leaders with a vast network of allies offering technical assistance, grants, a roadmap and recognition for their sustainability efforts.

From energy audits to integrating sustainability into student learning, and boosting recycling efforts, the past year has been exceptional. Over 2,700 sustainability actions were completed by schools and districts participating in the Sustainable Jersey for Schools program.

Nearly Half of New Jersey School Districts Participate To date, 273 school districts and 679 schools are taking part in the Sustainable Jersey program. The district participation has grown to include 46 percent of all New Jersey school districts. Participating schools can choose from 84 actions, such as tracking energy, conducting a waste audit and implementing education for sustainability into curricula to earn points for certification.

A total of 194 schools have achieved Sustainable Jersey for Schools certification. In 2017, more than 124 schools applied for certification. The 91 approved schools will be announced at a recognition ceremony at Workshop 2017.

A key to the program’s success has been collaboration with partners. Core partners include the New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA), the New Jersey Association of School Business Officials (NJASBO), the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association (NJPSA), the New Jersey School Buildings and Grounds Association (NJSBGA) and The Sustainability Institute at The College of New Jersey.

The following are some sustainability success stories, from school districts around the state.

Energy Savings and Solar in Delran Township All four schools in the Delran Township School District are participating in Sustainable Jersey for Schools. Delran High School and Millbridge Elementary School have achieved certification. Superintendent Dr. Brian Brotschul and Business Administrator Dr. Chris Russo have spearheaded energy savings in the district. The district is implementing a $4.5 million capital improvement project through an Energy Savings Improvement Program (ESIP) which uses projected energy savings to fund efficiency upgrades. The project consists of more than a dozen energy conservation measures, including new air conditioning units, improved lighting, and roof-top solar panels at the district’s four schools that will produce 75 percent of the district’s electricity.

Students will have access to hands-on learning about energy efficiency through dashboards that will display energy usage information. The program is projected to reduce the district’s energy costs by 32 percent, which equals nearly $285,000 per year. The district also expects to secure $325,000 in anticipated rebates and incentives from New Jersey’s Clean Energy Program and the PJM Energy Efficiency Credit. These projects could save taxpayers up to $5 million over the next 15 years, which will free up funds for Delran Township schools.

The student green teams are impressive, with over 250 active participants at the four schools. Supervisor of Curriculum Erica DeMichele, and the green teams, led outreach efforts to support the energy efficiency program. They held a Delran Schools’ Electricity Challenge Week. The school with the most energy savings, calculated per square foot, won the contest.

DeMichele and the four school green teams educated over 300 parents and community members about how the team is incorporating learning about energy usage and behavior by tracking energy use.

“Education and collaboration with the district level green team, as well as the school green teams, has been a big success,” DeMichele said.

“No Foam Zone” Campaign at Egg Harbor Township High School For two years in a row, Egg Harbor Township High School has received the Sustainable Jersey for Schools Sustainability Champion award and has achieved certification at the silver-level.

As part of a district-wide initiative, Egg Harbor Township High School participates in a designated “No Foam Cafeteria Zone” day when students and staff are encouraged to not use foam trays in the cafeterias. Like other schools that use the cost-effective, single-use trays made of non-recyclable polystyrene foam, or Styrofoam, once the trays are used, they are discarded into trash cans. The trays take up enormous amounts of space and require the use of many plastic trash bags. Along with other trash, these trays are hauled to landfills, where they do not disintegrate.

On “No Foam Cafeteria Zone” days the high school replaces single-use foam trays in its lunchrooms with molded fiber trays that are eco-friendly and compostable. In preparation for the pilot program, high school students took a survey to determine what they would feel comfortable carrying in the cafeteria, and student green team members collected data on the number of trays used every day. The large number of trays used was so surprising to the students that they embraced the concept of a “no foam” day. During the morning broadcast, the high school television station also encourages students to not choose the foam trays.

“Receiving the Sustainability Champion award for the second year in a row shows our school’s commitment to sustainability at a high level,” said Egg Harbor Township High School Principal Dr. Terry Charlton. “It takes continual efforts by every student and staff member and the knowledge that we are supported from our district administration and Board of Education.”

All Schools in Long Branch Public District Achieve Certification The Long Branch Public School District in Monmouth County has embarked on a successful district-wide sustainability program. Solar panels were installed on eight schools and green initiatives were implemented district wide. All nine schools in the Long Branch School District have achieved Sustainable Jersey for Schools certification. (The efforts also led to Green Ribbon honors for two Long Branch schools; for more information, see page 22 in this issue of School Leader.)

The Long Branch Middle School curriculum embeds environmental sustainability across all grade levels and subject areas. Students take learning out of the classroom on multiple field trips throughout the year to zoos, museums, the beach and local watersheds. They create and design farming equipment using electronic bit circuits, and construct a sustainable green habitat to survive on another planet. Students debate and write position-based essays on topics such as plastics in cosmetics, endangered species regulations, genetically modified crops and depletion of natural resources. They create their own solar cookers to harness the power of the sun to cook food or make water safe to drink. Long Branch students have created a sustainable biosphere in a recycled soda bottle with native plants from nearby Lake Takanassee.

George L. Catrambone Elementary School At George L. Catrambone Elementary School, students and staff have worked hard to reduce their environmental impact. In the Catrambone courtyard, students constructed a greenhouse from more than 2,000 recycled soda bottles that they collected. With the growing season extended, students grow enough vegetables and herbs from their gardens to feed students, staff and the greater community. The courtyard serves as an outdoor classroom, and includes rain barrels to water the gardens, reducing irrigation needs. Bioswales on campus help to reduce stormwater runoff.

In a continued effort to reduce waste, single-use water bottles have also been eliminated in the Catrambone Elementary School building. A student fundraiser sold reusable water bottles, which raised enough money to purchase new bottle filling stations. In the lunchroom, reusable trays help reduce waste, and a garbage audit made students more knowledgeable about recycling and more cognizant when separating trash. Third-grade students studied the negative effect drinking straws have on New Jersey’s beaches, and, as a result, stopped using straws, encouraging the entire school to follow their lead. Second graders collect used aluminum juice pouches to clean and repurpose into bags, wallets and lunch boxes. All of this has helped contribute to a 40 percent recycling rate.

Grants Available to Support Schools and Districts To support the efforts of schools and districts, Sustainable Jersey for Schools offers grants and technical support. Since 2015, more than a million dollars in grants has been provided to districts and schools. The 2017 funded projects are inspiring; for example, Joseph M. Ferraina Childhood Learning Center in Long Branch is creating a 1,000-plant aeroponic greenhouse for students to use; South Orange Middle School is developing a river curriculum program to get kids interested in the Rahway River; Hedgepeth-Williams Middle School in Trenton is implementing a school wellness program. To see current grants available and the list of projects funded, visit the Sustainable Jersey for Schools website (www.SustainableJerseySchools.com).

Getting Started To get started in the program, a school board must adopt a resolution of participation and register at the Sustainable Jersey for Schools website. Then each school in that district may register on the website. The website provides the list of sustainability actions, each with guidance and resources for implementation.

Workshop 2017 On Oct. 24, 2017, the third group of certified schools and school districts will be celebrated at a reception held during Workshop 2017 in Atlantic City. Workshop 2017 will also feature Sustainable Jersey for Schools sessions along with NJSBA sustainability support programs for schools. Attendees can visit the Sustainable Jersey for Schools’ booths in the Green Command Center and in the NJSBA member services area.

Sessions at Workshop 2017 – Room 418

Tuesday, October 24

  • 11 a.m.: Funding Your Sustainability Initiatives
  • 2:30 p.m.: Sustainability Champions
  • 4 p.m.: Behavioral Changes or Building Upgrades? Two Paths to Energy Efficiency in your District

Wednesday, October 25

  • 9:30 a.m.: Dig in! How Waste Audits Can Improve Your Recycling Rate
  • 1 p.m.: Building a Culture to Help Students Succeed in School and Life

Thursday, October 26

  • 9:30 a.m.: Free Resources and Simple Steps toward Safer Routes to School for your Students

Heather McCall  is program director of Sustainable Jersey for Schools.