The Daily Tar Heel

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Thursday May 19th

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools nominateed for environmental honor

"Shifting normal" — That was the buzzword Dan Schnitzer, sustainability coordinator for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, repeated when discussing the district's nomination for the Department of Education's Green Ribbon award.

One of two districts in the state up for recognition, CHCCS distinguished itself through a multi-pronged approach. 

In Schnitzer's first year on the job, he has helped shift lighting from incandescent bulbs to fluorescent and LED bulbs across the district, led the charge to reduce paper use through the reuse of sheets and the replacement of printers with multi-function copiers, and overseen the commencement of a compost program in the middle and elementary schools.

There is a real sense that sustainability programming can be seamlessly integrated with traditional learning, said Sally Massengale, science specialist at Glenwood Elementary School. 

At McDougle Middle School, for example, students recently led the charge to have a solar panel installed. Ruben Giral, a sixth and seventh grade teacher at the school, said the solar panels provided more than just a hands-on example of circuitry and reusable energy.

"Kids can use real-time displays of energy production to analyze how angles of inclination affect panel usage," Giral said.

Such integration is one of the goals of the Common Core standards. Hands-on learning reinforces mathematics concepts and breeds familiarity with sustainable energy, "shifting normal" for these students away from power plants and toward the sun.

There is no monetary prize if the school system wins the award, but it would gain the district national recognition. 

Schitzer said winning the award would validate the school district's push toward increasing sustainability to community members.

"They can feel proud that this is the school district where their tax dollars are going," Schitzer said. 

Awareness can encourage learning at home so that sustainable practices come naturally to students, Massengale said.

"It's easy when it's your culture from the time you step in the door," she said.

Massengale has been instrumental in implementing the composting program at the school. 

For fourth graders, she uses the decomposing food to reinforce lessons on nutrition. And for fifth graders, she focuses on how it is an example of the interdependence of organisms. 

"These are things that are so important because they affect the everyday life of the student," Schnitzer said. "And that's just as valuable as a lesson on alternative energy."

The majority of teachers had been in the district long before Schnitzer's arrival. He said encouraging them to change is often difficult, especially because it requires tact.

"Sometimes people are resistant to change, not because it's a bad idea, because it's different," he said.

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