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GHS wins state sustainability award

Students lead effort to go green while school gets remodel
by: raymond Rendleman, Gladstone High School sophomores Meghan Winkle (from left), Cassidy Olsen-Shultz and Jessica Coiteux help sort recycling as part of the Green Club's efforts winning a statewide award.

Gladstone High School was among four statewide winners of the Oregon Sustainable School Awards.

The high school also was recognized for outstanding commitment to the Supporting Healthy, Safe Students 'pillar' of sustainability.

Gladstone High School students led the way to victory with their 90-member Green School Club pushing for the School Board to adopt a sustainable practice policy. The club conducted trash and energy audits; put in place recycling and composting programs; built garden and cob structures in the courtyard; and introduced a rainwater collection system. The group also pushed for more high school sustainability curriculum and better integration of sustainability into the school culture.

'Together, with my peers, teachers and community, I learned to identify problems regarding sustainability,' said senior Trace Webster. 'I learned to solve these problems. These experiences capture the true essence of learning.'

Student efforts resulted in reduced energy consumption costs by about $250 a month and won the Governor's Sustainability Award in 2010. The group is working to build a farm-to-table program to reduce food-transport costs, while increasing cafeteria-food and support local farmers.

'Gladstone High's vision for establishing sustainable environmental practices starts with our wonderful students,' said Principal Stu Evans.

Green Club

Last year, GHS Spanish teacher Brad Kuntz was one of only two educators nationwide honored with the 2011 Outstanding Young Educator Award by ASCD, an international educational leadership association.

Kuntz, who is also the school's Green Club adviser, is now helping students create a video of their trash auditing techniques so that all schools in the state can replicate their success in finding ways to reduce waste.

'If even one or two of these other schools adopt our trash auditing techniques, and I think it will be more than a dozen, that benefit will expand significantly throughout Oregon,' Kuntz told his Green Club recently. 'These major changes inspired by our study of waste will result in year-after-year decreasing of our footprint.'

A green remodel

A 2006 school bond funded a full remodel of Gladstone High School using materials that contained significant recycled content, including extensive recycling of demolition debris. Evans hopes the school's effort will earn gold, if not platinum, LEED certification this summer.

'Despite adding 13 percent more square footage to our school, we were able to reduce our overall electrical consumption by 9 percent, and our overall natural gas consumption by 3 percent,' Evans said. 'A 100-kilowatt photovoltaic system has helped mitigate our remaining electrical consumption. We also installed a highly efficient digitally controlled HVAC system that provides improved air quality and temperature balance. The net result of these improvements and others is a reduction in monthly energy costs of $1,300.'

This is the first year of the U.S. Department of Education's Green Ribbon Schools recognition honored schools with a comprehensive approach to creating 'green' environments through reducing environmental impact, promoting health, and ensuring high-quality environmental and outdoor education. Nationally, 78 schools from 29 states and the District of Columbia received the award.

'The work these schools are doing both in sustainable practice and sustainability education is truly inspiring,' said State Superintendent Susan Castillo. 'Through a commitment to student health, reducing their impact on the environment, integrating sustainability into the curriculum, and focusing on issues of social sustainability, these schools are making a difference in their communities and in the lives and futures of their students.'

GHS installed low-flow devices in 72 percent of the water fixtures, reducing potable water usage by 30 percent. A water-bottle filling station has contributed to a reduction in use of disposable plastic water bottles.

The building has transitioned to using nontoxic, biodegradable cleaning products, as well as extended life, non-disposable cleaning pads and mops. Its cafeteria eliminated the use of plastic water bottles and paper plates. The district has also switched to a food distributor that provides more locally grown and organic options.

'We are looking after our students' bodies and minds, as well,' Evans said. 'Another program developed during this time was a renewable energy course that focuses on wind, solar, hydrogen fuel cell and thermal uses of energy.'

The course covers clean energy through hands-on trainers and software programs to teach engineering principles of state-of-the-art technologies for clean energy.

'Educating our students to be able to create a sustainable future needs to include the school's effort to address its own sustainability impacts and student and staff health, in addition to classroom instruction for sustainability,' said Lori Stole, manager of the Sustainable Oregon Schools Initiative. 'This award is recognizing schools doing just that and it is wonderful to see them receiving this well-deserved recognition.'