It’s a mild Friday afternoon in April, and while the sun glistens upon the schoolyard, 25 fourth graders sift their hands through top soil gently nesting goldenrods, a native Michigan flower, into enriched flowerbeds. These experiences prove children learn best at a young age, and this concept is especially true for Eco-Education.
Something as simple as planting a garden or a hosting a workshop on watershed can emphasize the importance of eliminating pollution, recycling and even spread awareness on Global Warming.
That’s why in the fall of 2005, Hartland Consolidated School District started the Michigan Green School program, which has grown from a small outreach of 18 schools in 2006 to more than 650 each year.
Assisting all public and private Michigan schools, Michigan Green Schools is a nonprofit program focused on students from k-12, who can engage in activities to learn about positive ecological practices, wildlife preservation, and sustainability.
The deadline to become a Green School is approaching for 2017, as educators interested must apply to enroll by March 1.
In her new position, Lauren Westerman will act as the Kent County Coordinator for the Michigan Green School program. Passionate about the Earth and sustainable practices, Westerman is a Resource Recovery Specialist at Kent County’s Recycling and Education Center.
“I think (the Green School program) corresponds perfectly with what we do here with recycling, education and the tours,” she said. “What we already do as a recycling center helps the teachers reach that Michigan Green School status.
“I thought, if I am already doing this, then why not help coordinate it and promote all of the eco-friendly, green things schools can do.”
For 2017, Westerman said her goal is to outreach and increase participation in the program, teach children and parents to protect the environment and eliminate waste from landfills.
“I think it is important for the kids (to learn) when they are young,” she said. “More and more I think we are seeing that sustainability, saving energy, recycling and even composting is becoming a way of life.”
As applications roll in for Kent County, some educators might be unsure of how to become a Green School or what activities to plan, however, Westerman is ready to answer those questions.
Here’s how it works:
Each school can obtain up to 20 points in environmental activities from the four different categories. If a school reaches 10 points, it receives the Michigan Green School status. With 15 points, the school reaches “Emerald” status and 20 points achieves “Evergreen” status.
The four categories for qualification are: reduce, reuse, and recycle; energy; environmental protection and miscellaneous. To achieve a Green School status, ten points must come from at least two categories.
Those planning to join the program can explore suggested activities listed on the Michigan Green School webpage, or create an original activity.
Some of the suggestions include installing a rain garden, enriching gardens with Michigan native flowers or hosting a speaker to relay the importance of honeybee protection.
After a school submits the application, the coordinator will either approve or revise activity ideas and turn it over the Michigan Green School Coordinator. Thereafter, the school will formally receive its official certificate.
“According to the data I got from the previous coordinator, it looks like we have fewer schools turning in applications,” Westerman said. “I would love to see that turn around. Whatever number I get this year I would love to increase each year from here on out.”
Jessica Vander Ark, director of environmental education at WMEAC, has worked for five years as the coordinator for Holmes Elementary School in Spring Lake. Currently, she said WMEAC is creating a guide to allow for more schools to start a green club or green program.
“WMEAC has consulted with several schools in multiple districts in our eight counties about finding ways to earn green school status,” Vander Ark said.
In addition, WMEAC provides several k-12 education and outreach programs, as well as materials to aid schools in earning green school points.
Those interested can fill out a Michigan Green School form online, and send the application to the county coordinator. Schools without a listed coordinator should address the form to the Michigan Green Schools Foundation at PO Box 76 Lawrence, MI 49064.
The school principal should sign and date the application and include the address. Additional questions can be sent to Kristine Moffett at KristineMoffet@michigangreenschools.us.