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The U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon awards program was created in 2011 to honor public and private schools, as well as institutions of higher learning, that practice “green” habits and care about the environment.

This year, two New Jersey schools, the George L. Catrambone Elementary School and Long Branch Middle School, both from the Long Branch School District, have been named Green Ribbon Schools.

To be awarded the Green Ribbon, a school must demonstrate three “pillars”: providing effective sustainability education, improving the health and wellness of students and staff, and reducing environmental impact and costs. By tracking and decreasing energy use; using reusable lunch trays; growing their own herbs and vegetables; taking part in wellness activities designed to lead to a healthier lifestyle; and more, the two Long Branch schools have exemplified what it means to be a Green Ribbon school.

Elementary School Excels The George L. Catrambone Elementary School, or GLC, was built to be sustainable. The school was constructed in 2014 following the practices of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), a green building rating system that measures environmental performance. The 108,000-square-foot school serves 846 students, and has truly embraced environmentally-friendly tactics: Their school mascot is even the “Green Wave.”

GLC Elementary was awarded bronze certification by Sustainable Jersey for Schools, as well as a certification from the Energy Star program. In 2016, Long Branch became the first district to be awarded the “Saving Energy Makes $ense Award” from the Sustainable Jersey for Schools program.

“Students are taught to help reduce their environmental footprint and learn lessons about pollution, excessive garbage production, fossil fuel dependency and the destruction of our natural environment,” school officials said in a statement about their award.

GLC provides hands-on learning experiences to teach the importance of recycling and taking care of the environment. For example, students collected used aluminum juice pouches and repurposed them into different items such as lunch bags and wallets. To reduce waste, the cafeteria uses reusable lunch trays. In addition, the school offers farm-to-school practices and “veggie grants” which enable every student to get their proper fruit and vegetable intake. The school also started a biweekly after school workout class where students and teachers can dance their way to a healthier lifestyle

In an effort to reduce environmental impact, the school collaborated with an outside vendor to educate students and staff on tracking all utilities. A group of second- and fourth-graders partnered with New Jersey Natural Gas and the Alliance to Save Energy to learn how they can help their school reduce energy consumption. Through small acts such as turning off lights when exiting a classroom and shutting down computers, Catrambone reduced its energy consumption by 40 percent. During the 2015-2016 fiscal year, the school saved over $20,000 on utility costs.

Middle School Environmental Footprint The Long Branch Middle School (LBMS) serves 1136 students. The school opened 10 years ago with environmental safety as a priority, built with geothermal heating to reduce the building’s environmental impact. In a statement, the school detailed its efforts.

“We have taken the challenge of reducing the size of the environmental footprint we leave on the Earth today that includes pollution, excessive garbage production, fossil fuel dependency, poor health and nutrition, and even the destruction of our natural environment. Solar panels were installed on the roofs and atop the car ports in the parking lots. Our school collects 300 megawatt hours from the solar system yearly, reducing the energy impact on the community,” the statement read.

Projects such as creating solar cookers and building a sustainable biosphere in a recycled soda bottle encourage students to consider the effect we have on our environment. Special education students grow and harvest herbs and vegetables in a courtyard garden to cook, and sell healthy meals to staff members at the student-run café. Students have healthy options through the farm-to-school practice, providing an assortment of fruits and veggies for students and staff. Long Branch attained the Bronze Level for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation in 2016.

The school also took major strides to reduce its environmental impact. The school was awarded the EPA Energy Star certification for its commitment to reducing energy consumption. Some 43 percent of the school’s energy is obtained from on-site renewable energy generation. LBMS also started “Project Lead the Way” that provides STEM classes to all grades. These classes encourage creativity and teach students about conservation of the environment. To encourage students to reuse bottle and beverage containers, the school installed bottle filling water stations, and collected bottles to build a greenhouse in the courtyard tended to by students and staff.

Students also enjoy reusing items to create inventions and contraptions which help others see the value of recycling. A major part of reduction of energy usage is the Power School Team through a  program of New Jersey Natural Gas. The team tracks energy usage and educates students and staff on how to do simple tasks such as monitoring light levels, temperatures and appliance usage to conserve energy. Through their efforts, LBMS has reduced its utility costs by more than $16,000 in the past four years.

More Than 200 Schools Named The Green Ribbon Schools Program has awarded the Green Ribbon honor to more than 200 schools since 2011. The U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) website describes the program as an “outreach initiative that helps to promote best practices and resources and multi-agency, multi-sector collaborations at a variety of levels.” The goal is to inspire schools to better take care of their environment and highlight exemplary practices of school sustainability. Encouraging schools to take actions into their own hands, by teaching students ways to reduce the carbon footprint and securing our future, is the aim of the program.

By recognizing these schools, the USDOE hopes to inspire more schools around the country to utilize these practices. Through the sustainable schools initiative, schools are encouraged to practice strategies that are helpful to the environment and help sustain our future. Interested schools must submit an application in September to their state education authority which nominates them. The USDOE announces the awardees on Earth Day each year, and holds an award ceremony that following summer. Each state is permitted as many as five pre-K-12 school or district nominations, and one college or university.

For more information on the Green Ribbon Schools program visit www2.ed.gov/programs/green-ribbon-schools.

Gennie Vital, a senior public relations major at Rowan University, served as an NJSBA summer intern. She can be reached at [email protected].