Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Day in the Life at the Elementary School for Sustainable Design

A Day in the Life at the Elementary School for Sustainable Design (the ES4SD).

It was another cold February winter morning. Cold, dark, dreary. As I dragged myself out of bed again to get ready for work, I heard the same sound that I have heard every weekday morning for months. It was the sound of happy, energetic students waiting at the bus stop to go to school. At first, I just thought it was the excitement of the beginning of the school year- new classes, new friends, new teachers. But the happy chatter never lessened even as the days grew shorter, colder, and darker. I found myself envious of those students so excited about their day. In the hopes of adding some energy to my morning I began to listen a little more closely to those conversations outside my window. What I heard surprised and confused me at the same time. I heard a very young student talking to his classmate about native species. I heard two boys debating the benefits of weather-stripping versus caulking windows to save energy. I heard a group of mixed aged students planning the next phase of their “green” architectural project. Each morning it was the same: sustainable energy, global warming, native species garden, pod casting, non-point source pollution, macroinvertebrates, green architecture. I knew that I had to find out more.

I learned from speaking to some neighbors that these students all attended the Elementary School for Sustainable Design. Although the neighbors that I spoke with did not have children of their own who attended the school, they knew about the school because they had attended various functions there. I laughed at first because I pictured these adults going to an elementary school bake sale or going to the gym once a year to vote. That was the only real experience that I had growing up in which community members came into an elementary school. Rhonda Perez told me that she attended a community meeting there. Michael Flanagan told me that he is currently taking a graduate course at a local University that is held at the elementary school. Kristen Jones told me that she took her whole family to a workshop there on how to save energy in the home. The Delaware Valley Green Building Council and the students from the school hosted it.

I decided that the time had come for me to visit this school. There were just too many unanswered questions. I called the school and set up a visitation day. They told me that I would be spending the day shadowing a fourth grade student named Alex. I arrived at the school at 7:45 am. As I pulled into the parking lot I stopped and rechecked my directions because this place did not look like any school I had ever seen. It was a beautiful new building surrounded by trees, shrubbery and grass. On closer review, I could see that the green areas were not simply for aesthetics, they were classrooms. On one side of the building, I saw a native species garden. All of the species were identified and described with labels created by students. On the other side, I saw the windmill and the solar arrays. I found out later from my student guide that the windmill and the solar panels helped the ES4SD achieve a “Zero Carbon Footprint” and was the reason that the the school was “off the grid”. Where was I??? This was "school"???
...to be continued