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Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools receives sustainability scholarship

After five years of working on sustainability across the board, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools received a School District Scholarship for 2019 from The Center for Green Schools to reward them for their efforts. 

Only five school districts across the United States received the scholarship, which allows 102,000 students and 170 schools to benefit from the support of the Center for Green Schools, according to a press release from CHCCS Community Relations Executive Director Jeff Nash.

The Center for Green Schools is a part of the U.S. Green Building Council and focuses on bringing sustainability to the classroom for a healthier future.

“The mission of the scholarship program is to provide support and networking opportunities for sustainability leaders, for working school systems to create organizational change,” said Phoebe Beierle, fellowship manager for Green Schools.

Since its start in 2010, the Center for Green Schools has worked to support schools that focus on environmental and sustainability issues in a one-on-one setting. Beierle said they aim to lead schools from a diverse geographic background who are already bringing about change to even higher levels of reform.

The School District Scholarship is not a direct financial grant but amounts to $20,000 through the programs and resources it provides. These resources include two conferences, one which occurred this past weekend and one scheduled for April, that teach staff members about green buildings and sustainability. 

Teachers will be given access to a course that gives them the Green Classroom Professional Certificate and a curriculum that enhances sustainability in the classroom.

This award came after Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools got a Best of Green Schools award two years ago.

“We have worked hard to integrate environmental sustainability into our operations," said Dan Schnitzer, sustainability coordinator for CHCCS. "We have reduced our energy use by 24 percent and avoided over three million (dollars) in utility costs.” 

Schnitzer focuses on ways to minimize the harm the schools do to the environment and capitalize on their positive impacts. Besides placing environmental education at the core of the school district’s curriculum, Schnitzer cut utility costs between 2013 and 2017 by $2.4 million.

Through composting efforts, the whole school district diverted a million pounds of waste from the landfill. Schnitzer and other partners upgraded lighting in the schools and continue to strive to make the other utilities more efficient. 

“The sustainability director will be working with the district heating ventilation air conditioning staff to manage and reduce energy usage through equipment verification and closer analysis of utility data,” said Beierle.

After the completion of this process, Beierle said the air and heating systems will be five to seven percent more efficient than before.

The school district will also partner with UNC’s Institute for the Environment and the Center for Green School’s Instructional Services department. Together they will introduce a new program: the Nature and Inquiry learning initiative.

“The more I learn, the more I am motivated to improve our district, and the more ability I have to improve the district will directly impact what I am able to offer teachers and students,” said Schnitzer.

The effort to make the school district more sustainable not only benefits the students in the classroom, but also the whole community, Beierle. The correlation between increased memory, attention and concentration of students and improved environmental aspects of the classroom has been shown by numerous studies, according to the press release.

Beierle said the hope of the program is that the teachers and students will engage with their environmental impact and their efforts will transfer to the larger community and raise awareness of the importance of sustainability.

“By utilizing a school’s immediate environment, experts in the community and a child’s natural curiosity, I believe that we can change the way schools see learning and in doing so engage more students, especially those in need,” Schnitzer said.

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