A group of kids smile while holding plant leaves

Cardinal Valley Elementary was one of two schools in Kentucky honored with the Green Ribbon Schools award this year.
Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Education

For students at Cardinal Valley Elementary (Fayette County), science education means venturing outside the traditional classroom.

Adonya Boyle, a science teacher at the school, has spent her career working to expand access to environmental education, promoting sustainable practices among students and teaching about gardening and nature.

Because of Boyle’s efforts, Cardinal Valley Elementary has been recognized as part of the 2023 national cohort of Green Ribbon Schools, a program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education (USED).

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a news release announcing the cohort that the award honors schools that raise the bar for sustainable practices, energy efficiency, health and wellness, and hands-on learning experiences.

“I want to congratulate the educators, school leaders, students, families and advocates engaged in this work for showing the nation that any school in any community can strive to be a green school, and in doing so, empower the next generation to build a healthier, more equitable and more sustainable nation,” he said.

Cardinal Valley Elementary was one of two schools in Kentucky honored with the recognition, along with Mary G. Hogsett Primary School (Danville Independent).

Boyle said the award for Cardinal Valley Elementary signifies that “we have been working very hard” to raise the bar on science studies and encouraging students “to understand the importance of sustaining the Earth.”

Having students throughout their elementary years at the school gives Boyle an opportunity to teach them to build environmentally conscious habits at a young age and sustain them over time.

“I think the best part about my job is that I get to have the children from kindergarten through 5th grade,” she said. “So, I get to influence them and educate them and be that model of good stewardship toward the Earth for six years.”

To Boyle, being a good steward involves teaching students about plant life cycles, structures and functions, and basic needs through the school’s garden.

“One thing is that we have a huge garden where the kids get to go out and experience,” Boyle said. “I had 20 kindergarteners that got to go out and eat strawberries out of the garden and pick different plants.”

Those hands-on experiences allow for meaningful education, Boyle said.

“We had peppers and tomatoes, and they got to taste them and feel them and look at them,” she said. “There are (walking) pathways in the garden, so a lot of the things that we are doing is just observing.”

Christa Roney, a curriculum coach, said the garden provides unique opportunities.

“For our students, being in an urban setting and not having access to a … large countryside to see how those things work, this gives them that opportunity to build that background knowledge,” she said.

Roney said back in the classroom, students are taught content in a way that connects back to those types of hands-on outdoor experiences.

“It’s exciting to go into … [a] room to see how engaged students are and the quality of content that they have access to,” she said.

Kevin Disney, Cardinal Valley Elementary’s principal, said the school’s 2012 renovation was a catalyst for expanding its environmental curriculum and putting sustainability into practice.

Boyle agreed, saying the school “was changed to use all of the natural light it could, so in both of our hallways, our main corridors in primary and intermediate, they lifted the roof and put windows on both sides.”

Additionally, the school turned to solar energy for different functions.

“We have a solar water heater on our roof, and then we have lights that go on when someone walks into the room or off if there’s no movement in the room after so many minutes,” she said.

Boyle said Fayette County Public Schools’ district-level administrators have worked to support the school’s efforts.

“I would just like to give a huge shout-out to our Fayette County Public Schools for supporting us in Green Ribbon,” she said. “I appreciate the support that we get from them. Tresine Logsdon, who is in charge of sustainability for Fayette County Public Schools … she is advocating for our school, and for me.”

Disney said he is proud of the school’s efforts in teaching students about environmental sustainability.

“It’s one thing to talk about it in the classroom. It’s another thing to watch kids live it,” he said.

To learn more about the Green Ribbon Schools recognition program, visit the U.S. Department of Education’s Green Ribbon Schools webpage.