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“Green School” Movement Blossoming in Texas



January 27, 2012

HOUSTON - The so-called "Green School" movement is helping more Texas children discover a love of science, technology, engineering and math - thanks, in part, to a combination of federal, state and local initiatives.

National Wildlife Federation science education specialist Jennifer Hammonds, who will conduct teacher workshops on "schoolyard habitats" at an environmental education summit on Saturday in Houston, says the trend will make the United States more competitive globally.

"It's very important to be scientifically literate, but we don't have the students going into those fields to provide that type of science and math and technology workforce that we need in the future."

Hands-on lessons in wildlife, gardening and energy conservation arouse students' interest in the sciences generally, Hammonds says. Sooner or later, she predicts, environmental education will become a standard requirement in schools throughout the country.

The Wildlife Federation has recognized 66 Texas schools for green initiatives. Hammonds says the Houston district is becoming a national model for its commitment to "outdoor classrooms" in every elementary school. Recent studies have confirmed that such programs are not only effective at teaching science concepts but also produce significantly higher math scores.

"Houston is leading the way in trying to create schoolyard habitats to get kids outside, to really engage students in higher-level thinking, and to get them thinking about something other than multiple-choice tests."

Texas lawmakers recently have supported expanded environmental education goals, but Hammonds thinks the state could go further by participating in the U.S. Green Ribbon Schools Award Program.

Some "green schools" are discovering a welcome side-effect, Hammonds says: Classroom projects can save districts money during cash-strapped times.

"There are energy projects, consumption and waste projects, that students can participate in, that can provide tremendous savings for school districts all around the state."

For example, she points to the Arlington Independent School District, which saved $280,000 in energy costs when campuses implemented unplug-and-shut-down policies during holiday breaks.

Saturday's Houston summit will be hosted by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, along with various environmental organizations.

More information on the Wildlife Federation's school-recognition program is online at nwf.org. A study of the program's effect on test scores is at horttech.ashspublications.org.

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX
 

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