Green is now routine at Brooklandville school

The Baltimore Sun

Green shoestrings normally aren't allowed at the St. Paul's School for Girls, but the dress code was relaxed yesterday. Students also wore green hair ribbons, green-and-white knee-high socks and T-shirts in almost every shade of the color.

They dressed to mark the Brooklandville school's new designation as an environmentally aware school, or Green School.

To become a Green School, St. Paul's School for Girls took such steps as creating a butterfly garden and banning commercial water bottles from campus. Teachers and students also refined used cooking oil to power one of the tractors used for work on the school grounds.

"At the very least, it's a measure of what you can do with something that may be considered unusable," said chemistry teacher Ashlie Wrenne.

Eighth-grader Laurnie Wilson, the middle school Student Government Association president, said: "I know that there are a lot of politics involved with environmental issues. But regardless of which politicians are for or against supporting environmentally conscious initiatives, we should do something about the environment."

St. Paul's School for Girls is one of 27 Maryland schools designated as Green Schools this year by the Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education, a nonprofit educational association. In all, more than 160 Maryland schools, including 19 private schools, have earned this certification.

The organization confers Green School status for taking steps to integrate environmental studies into academic disciplines, implementing environmentally friendly practices and facility designs, and involving the community in its environmental initiatives.

The process to receive certification takes about two years after an application has been submitted.

Physics teacher Steve Rives spearheaded the movement to transform St. Paul's into a Green School. After a few students expressed interest in environmental issues, Rives discussed the idea with some teachers in the spring of 2004.

During the past two years, the school has integrated environmental education across academic disciplines. For example, the religion classes discuss the biblical basis for environmental stewardship, and the foreign-language classes include readings about environmental issues.

"In order for a program like this to work, we need to involve the whole school," said Bill Strickland, president of the school's board of trustees. "In becoming a Green School, there is a real holistic approach to greening a culture and a group of people."

The school's fifth-graders created the butterfly habitat, built in one of the main courtyards. Sixth-graders posted five bluebird nesting houses around campus. The eighth-grade class maintains a nature trail on campus.

The school also is actively trying to reduce paper usage by encouraging the viewing of documents electronically.

"Our school culture has fundamentally changed," said Head of School Monica Gillespie. She said officials are also exploring options such as solar panels and a roof garden.

The celebration at the St. Paul's School for Girls began yesterday morning. Students marched out of Price Gym by grade and followed the "bio tractor" to the front lawn for a series of speeches.

"You are the ones that are making the environment better for yourselves and for everyone else," Robert Ballinger, communications director for the Maryland Department of the Environment, told the students. "Years in the future, we will have a safe, viable future for our environment, and for that I thank you."

Baltimore County Circuit Judge Judith C. Ensor, a 1979 graduate of the school, also addressed the students.

"You've already made a difference," she said. "We're all going to go forth and spread the word."

During the program, Gillespie also announced that a school-wide ban on commercial water bottles would go into effect and that reusable water bottles, which can be refilled at seven new water dispensers around campus, will be given to all students, faculty, and staff. All commercial water bottle vending machines have been removed from the campus.

Bottled water has come under scrutiny for the energy used to manufacture and transport the containers and the space they take up in landfills.

After the speeches, Rives, the physics teacher who led the Green School effort, and school Student Government Association president Skylar Lasky lowered the state flag, attached the Green School flag underneath, then hoisted both of them.

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