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This Philly school is setting a new standard for sustainability
Philly

This Philly school is setting a new standard for sustainability

When the school district launched GreenFutures in 2016, the Northeast Philly school planned to take the green agenda to greater heights.

Students tend to vegetables that sit under LED lights while 5th graders write essays on climate change in another classroom.

One of the first schools to adopt the agricultural curriculum, the School District of Philadelphia says Fox Chase Elementary School has become a model of its GreenFutures program worth imitating.

(Fun fact: GreenFutures is a SustainPHL award winner!)

Led by the SDP’s Environmental Director Francine Locke, GreenFutures established five sustainability focus areas – education, consumption and waste, energy and efficiencies, greenscapes and healthy buildings – as a guide to help turn every city school green.

The show & tell of sustainability

Fox Chase quickly went to work updating its operations to reduce waste and energy consumption – efforts that expand sustainability education beyond the chalkboard.

It has three hydration stations on-campus, and cafeterias are stocked with worm-based composting sites.

Plus Principal Robert Caroselli said more changes are coming. This summer, Fox Chase will modernize its classrooms with LED lighting.

Caroselli is also considering installing outdoor classrooms and an amphitheater in the middle of a meadow.

Fox Chase, like the rest of the SDP, also adopted green stormwater infrastructure, which helps reduce overflows in sewers.

Cultivating crops & students’ minds

It’s not just infrastructure updates that make Fox Chase stand out. The elementary school also teaches its students about sustainability.

The school in 2017 added an agricultural curriculum that includes visiting the nearby Fox Chase Farm and growing flowers and vegetables in on-campus gardens.

Lessons differ for each grade, though most involve hands-on learning and encourage student interaction.

Caroselli said those changes have resulted in a deeper interest in coursework among students.

“I’ve seen various types of learners all engage. It’s a way to keep kids engaged and interested in environment,” Caroselli said.

Students also maintain vegetable and butterfly gardens, and they have access to an on-campus agricultural lab and an arboretum. Classes learn about wind and solar power, and harvest produce.

Fox Chase also offers activities based on seasonality, like a trout-releasing event in the spring.

Caroselli said he hopes to influence other districts across the state.

There are growth site opportunities, like planting more greenery around playgrounds, at every school in Philadelphia, he said.

Teaching teachers about sustainable goals

Reducing the environmental impact at any school would be challenging, and Philadelphia’s schools face additional hurdles.

Philadelphia is the poorest big city in the country, according to the Pew Research Center, a distinction that puts additional burdens on the school system.

For example, SDP serves 57,000 free breakfasts and 92,000 free lunches are served.

The poverty rate, along with SDP’s status as the largest public school system in Pennsylvania, are among the considerations GreenFutures made when developing its five-year plan.

To tackle the city’s unique issues, GreenFutures created goals tailored to SDP:

  • Reduce energy consumption in every school by 20 percent
  • Decrease the amount of waste in landfills by 10 percent
  • Install green spaces as schoolyards
  • Educate teachers and help them implement green programs into their lessons
  • Establish baselines and improve health standards in schools

Francesca Ramaccioti, a PHENND Fellow working with Philly schools, said implementing sustainable goals is a “district-wide effort.”

Each Philadelphia school can take a different approach, said Ramaccioti, who tries to show how a sustainable curriculum “can be embedded into the work that they’re doing and enhance it.”

Ramaccioti collaborates with teachers on how to implement lessons and helps address concerns about implementing recycling and other green programs. The GreenFuture staff member also tracks energy consumption and creates greenscape guides for schools.

GreenFutures also offers professional development opportunities such as climate change forums to teachers and school faculty staff.

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Jessica Rogers

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