Where Imagination Outshines Memorization

Earning A’s in Environment (April 16, 2009 Miami Herald)

JOSE CASSOLA jcassola@MiamiHerald.com

Being green is part of the curriculum at the Sunrise School of Miami. Children at the Waldorf school near Pinecrest not only recycle, they also grow organic vegetables, compost leftover food, utilize organic crayons made from beeswax and write on paper created from green processing, among other practices. “Everything we use in our classrooms is made from natural materials,” administrator Patricia Russell said. “The goal is to educate students early on about recycling and other green efforts so they are more apt to develop a lifelong love and reverence for the environment.”

Public and private schools across Miami-Dade County are following suit. Each year, more schools are doing their part to protect Mother Earth by practicing green initiatives that conserve energy, cut their carbon dioxide footprints and promote environmental awareness. Nonprofits Dream in Green and Alliance to Save Energy have partnered with Ransom Everglades School over the past two years to host the Green Schools Challenge, a series of workshops designed to help local schools reduce electricity use, plant trees to sequester carbon and establish recycling programs. Ruth K. Broad Bay Harbor K-8 Center was one of the 15 participating schools in 2007 that helped recycle more than 87,000 pounds of paper and conserve more than 653,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity — a savings of $150,000. The results of last year’s challenge, with 48 participating schools, is still being calculated. Students at Broad Bay Harbor have since learned how to recycle other things besides paper, including cardboard, plastic bottles, aluminum cans, cellphones and batteries. “We’ve even recycled Croc shoes,” joked Simone D’Antuono, 10. Parent Dana Kulvin also helped the K-8 center launch a “Watt Watchers” student group that patrols empty classrooms to make sure lights and computers are off. Similar “lights-out” initiatives have resulted in huge energy savings for other schools. George Washington Carver Middle School saved almost 40,000 last year. MAST Academy in Key Biscayne also reduced its energy costs by 12 percent since the beginning of this school year. It has cut additional costs by using zero-scaping on campus, including mulch and indigenous plants that don’t require much water or irrigation. Northwestern Senior High School is also on the right green track. The school recently won a $250,000 environmental makeover through the Green My School contest sponsored by EcoMedia, a company that promotes green business practices. The money — subject to Miami-Dade County School Board approval — will help fund a more efficient water system, a lighting retrofit, wind turbine, green roof and outdoor garden. “Everyone is jumping on the green bandwagon,” said Victor Alonso, the design officer for Miami-Dade County Public Schools. “Schools are recycling more, replacing light bulbs with more efficient bulbs, doing campus and coastal cleanups and even promoting carpooling, biking and walking.” Environmental studies are also being worked into the curriculum of several schools, including three new ones opening in the fall: a K-8 center in Homestead, a high school in North Miami and another high school in Kendall, which will be the first LEED-certified school in Miami-Dade, meaning the school meets the national standards for green construction. Alonso said while existing schools are not mandated to practice green initiatives, most new schools going forward will be required to be LEED-certified or fall under an equivalent rating system. “That is probably one advantage we have about starting new,” said Sally Alayon, principal of the new North Miami School located next to Florida International University’s Biscayne Bay Campus near Oleta River State Park. “You don’t have to change any minds because everyone is coming in knowing that this is the way things are done.” Officials project the LEED-certified school in Kendall will use 20 percent less water by using low-flow fixtures and 50 percent less electricity by using energy-efficient fluorescent lamps and motion sensors that shut off lights in empty classrooms. A plasma screen showing the school’s daily savings in energy and water will be displayed at the entrance for parents to see. “They’ll know in real time everything we are doing to reduce our carbon footprint,” principal Caridad Montano said. “I want the world to look at this school for answers. So this becomes the environmental school.”

Both the Kendall and North Miami high schools will also have plenty of windows and skylights that provide natural light and curb energy use like Westland Hialeah High School, which opened last year. “Often times, classroom teachers don’t have to turn on their lights because there’s enough sunshine coming in from our ample windows,” said Alberto Rodriguez, the principal at Westland Hialeah High, which is participating this year in the Fairchild Challenge. The Fairchild Challenge, an educational outreach program of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables, has connected local youth with the environment through hands-on research and competitive projects since 2002. Students at Westland have performed skits on water pollution, written essays on energy consumption and created pocket parks and flower gardens. One student even used a solar panel to build a hovercraft that glides and flies using solar power. All things solar are slowly but surely creeping into schools looking to conserve energy. In Homestead, Mandarin Lakes Academy K-8 Center is one of six Florida schools getting a five-kilowatt solar array from Florida Power & Light that will generate emissions-free electricity.

MAST Academy, which also has a solar array, offers a solar energy elective course that educates students on the different sources of reusable energy and its conservation and efficiency. Instructor Dr. Wafa Khalil requires her students to create products for the school’s annual Solar Celebration event in May, including solar cookers, water heaters, cars and boats. Students this year even created a solar-powered golf cart complete with three 12-volt solar roof panels and six six-volt batteries. The school uses the cart around campus for transporting trash and other goods. “It doesn’t take a great effort to become more green,” Khalil said, “just a little common sense.” Miami Herald staff writers Elaine de Valle, Yudy Pineiro, Carli Teproff, Laura Morales, Micaela Hood and Liana Kozlowski contributed to this report. How to get your school to go green At Carver Middle School, 15-year-old Larissa Weinstein was one of several students and faculty members last year who helped save the school thousands of dollars in electricity simply by turning off lights, computers and printers in classrooms when not in use. Now a freshman at Coral Gables High, the green advocate recently helped implement a recycling program at her alma mater and is spreading awareness among her peers in the Gables Earth environmental club founded two years ago by junior Marc Briz. “We are definitely on the right track to becoming a greener school,” she said. Other schools can get on the right track, too. Here are some tips on how to do it: Start a recycling program: Call Green Team Recycling at 305-885-9854 or visit www.greenteamrecycling.com for more information. Become a Dream in Green school: Call 305-576-3500 or visit www.dreamingreen.org to learn how to get involved in this fall’s Green School’s Challenge. Participate in the Fairchild Challenge: Call Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden at 305-667-1651 or visit www.fairchildgarden.org. For more energy-saving tips and suggestions, call Miami-Dade County Schools’ District Inspections department at 305-995-1550. —

JOSE CASSOLA TEACHING GREEN ALLISON DIAZ/FOR THE MIAMI HERALD CHRIS CUTRO/FOR THE MIAMI HERALD Public and private schools in Miami-Dade are taking new initiatives to work and teach with the environment in mind. Students at Ruth K. Broad Bay Harbor K-8 Center, above, learn about green practices with their solar-powered fountain; MAST Academy students, left, head to class in brilliant sun provided by the many skylights; and principal Caridad Montano stands in front of her new green school in Kendall, the first of its kind in Miami-Dade. PAGE 10

CHRIS CUTRO/FOR THE MIAMI HERALD RESEARCH PROJECT: Jose Peguero, 17, works on his research project, a solar-powered hovercraft. Peguero is a junior at Westland Hialeah Senior High School.

ALLISON DIAZ/FOR THE MIAMI HERALD RECYCLING: Tali Peretz, 8, left, and Myles Berlowitz, 8, recycle paper at Ruth K. Broad Bay Harbor K-8 Center. The school uses hands-on activities to teach environmental practices. Below, Westland Hialeah Senior High students Katerin Alegria, 17, from left, Susana Yepes, 16, and Michelle Martin, 15, practice a skit for the Fairchild Challenge.

CHRIS CUTRO/FOR THE MIAMI HERALD RECHARGING BATTERIES: Bradley Schneider, 15, a student at MAST Academy in Key Biscayne, brushes the solar cells on the school’s golf cart to help recharge its battery.

PHOTOS BY CHRIS CUTRO/FOR THE MIAMI HERALD SOLAR ENERGY: Steward Schwarz, 15, pulls weeds from the area surrounding the solar-powered fountain at MAST Academy in Key Biscayne. Below, large windows allow sunlight into the media center at Westland Hialeah Senior High School. Copyright (c) 2009 The Miami Herald

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