Two public schools and one postsecondary institution are Kentucky’s nominees for the 2015 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School Recognition Award.

First Lady Jane Beshear recognized Bryan Station Middle School (Fayette Co.), Royal Springs Middle School (Scott Co.) and Western Kentucky University (WKU) as Kentucky’s nominees at a recent Frankfort ceremony.

The schools will compete on a national level; U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is scheduled to announce the winners next week. They will be honored at a Washington, D.C. ceremony in July.

The award recognizes schools, districts, and institutions of higher education that:

• reduce environmental impact and costs
• improve the health and wellness of schools, students, and staff
• provide environmental education, which teaches many disciplines, and is especially good at effectively incorporating STEM, civic skills, and green career pathways
Combined achievement in all three of these areas serves as the basis for recognition.

In the last 10 years, Bryan Station Middle School has reduced energy consumption by 40 percent and water consumption by 29 percent. Students participate in a year-round wellness class, and are involved in the Alliance for a Healthier Generation Program. The 6th grade science program is expanding its aquaponics program in partnership with an urban farm located in Lexington and the Green Club maintains a vegetable garden and promotes environmental problem solving initiatives like the school’s anti-idling program.

Royal Springs Middle School’s energy consumption has been reduced more than 30 percent from 2009 to 2013, while water consumption has been cut by 13 percent. Royal Springs also creates a culture and daily practice that promotes physical health. Many teachers incorporate outdoor education opportunities through their classes. Extra-curricular activities go beyond traditional sports teams to include Kickball Club, Hiking Club, Girls on the Run, Race for the Cure and the Energy and Environment Club. The environment, student and staff health, and an awareness of sustainability are embedded throughout the curriculum and daily practices of this school include a recycling program and tree-planting projects.

The WKU Office of Sustainability was created in 2008, and since then has reduced energy use on its main campus by 25 percent. The school has improved access to fresh, local, healthy food by supporting the Community Farmers Market, a mobile farmer’s market and the Farm to Campus program. This year Western became a certified Arboretum and is one of six postsecondary institutions in Kentucky that are part of the Tree Campus USA program. WKU offers the only master’s program in Social Responsibility and Sustainable Communities, and the only master’s in Business Administration Certificate in Sustainability in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

Encouraging resource efficient schools allows administrators to dedicate more resources to instruction rather than operational costs. Healthy schools and wellness practices ensure that all students learn in an environment conducive to achieving their full potential, free of the health disparities that can aggravate achievement gaps. Sustainability education helps all students engage in hands-on learning, hone critical thinking skills, learn many disciplines and develop a solid foundation in STEM subjects. It motivates postsecondary students in many disciplines, and especially those underserved in STEM subjects, to persist and graduate with sought-after degrees and robust civic skills.

Kentucky has participated in the voluntary Green Ribbon Schools program since its inception in 2011. Schools are encouraged to participate in the Green Ribbon Schools Program in the 2015-16 school year. This is the first year postsecondary institutions were invited to participate in the Green Ribbon Schools program. For more information on the nomination process, check the Green Schools page on the Kentucky Department of Education website. More information on the Green Ribbon federal recognition award can be found here. Resources for all schools to move toward becoming green schools can be found here.