Many of the efforts that began years ago at one elementary school in Oak Harbor have taken root throughout the district, and now its students, staff and administration are being recognized at the federal level.
Last Wednesday proved to be a particularly green day for Oak Harbor Public Schools with announcements of two awards: One from the Environmental Protection Agency and another from the U.S. Department of Education highlighting student and district sustainability efforts.
The EPA recognized Broad View Elementary’s Green Team as the region 10, K-5 winner of the Presidential Environmental Youth Award for it members’ work in composting, reducing waste and community service. On the same day, the federal education department named Oak Harbor Public Schools one of 14 District Sustainability Awardees from across the nation.
Both bits of good news were shared that afternoon to a crowd of excitable elementary school students in Broad View’s multipurpose room. Representatives from the EPA presented four students with certificates and invitations to Washington D.C.
“I feel excited and nervous,” fourth-grader Kamy Harder said of receiving the award.
“I’m excited and nervous!” third-grader Samantha Hickam added.
Neither student could explain what exactly they were nervous about.
Green Team members Harder, Hickam, Aaron Lutheran and Emelyn Payne helped establish “worm soup” at the school by installing worm bins and working with the cafeteria staff and food service provider to collect compost. The team also asked the food service provider to switch to metal utensils from plastic.
Sally Hanft, environmental education coordinator for the regional office in Seattle, said she was also impressed by the students planting flowers in addition to herbs and vegetables in the schools garden. When the flowers bloomed, the students received expert advice in flower arranging and then gave the bouquets to retirement homes in the city.
“It was pretty creative,” Hanft said. “They reached a different age group of people.”
Hanft and Jill Nogi, who’s the branch chief of policy and environmental review at the Seattle office, also noted the students’ creativity and their heavy involvement in each of its steps.
The group’s “worm soup” project stood out among applications from students in kindergarten through fifth grade at schools in region 10, which includes Washington, Idaho, Oregon and Alaska.
Administrators and others from the school district will also be traveling to the nation’s capital in acceptance of the education department’s Green Ribbon District Sustainability Award. This recognition comes as a culmination of efforts made at the student, teacher and district level, Gibbon said.
Approximately five years ago, staff at Hillcrest Elementary began partnering with Washington Green Schools to install a garden and chicken coop and started incorporating these features into the curriculum, he said. Other schools followed the lead, while the district began its own sustainability efforts in tandem with student projects.
Maintenance and facilities staff replaced all light bulbs with LED lights, installed high-efficiency boilers, and the transportation department transitioned to propane-run buses.
“What sets OHPS (Oak Harbor Public Schools) apart from neighboring districts is the schools’ ability to work together to strengthen each other and grow,” the education department’s report states.
The report highlighted both internal efforts, like the custodial staff’s green cleaning program, as well as outside partnerships such as with Washington State University and Island County to provide family outreach and nutritional cooking programs.
Gibbon said these efforts are only the beginning, and school staff are already looking ahead to the next projects. Some potential steps might include adding gardens to the middle and intermediate school campuses and incorporating their use into the curriculum.