Creating a Vision for the Green Ribbon Schools Program: Join the Effort!

May 17, 2011

by Mark Bishop, Vice President of Policy and Communications

Yesterday, Healthy Schools Campaign along with 15 other non-profit organizations and 10 representatives from four federal agencies met to create a framework for the new Green Ribbon Schools (GRS) program. It seems that a new day is dawning for green schools.

Last month, the Department of Education (ED) announced the establishment of a new awards program to recognize excellence in school environmental programs: Green Ribbon Schools. Kudos to the advocates at the US Green Building Council, National Wildlife Foundation, the Campaign for Environmental Literacy and the Earth Day Network for taking the lead on this.

So with the early legwork done, what is the Green Ribbon Schools program going to look like? Well, we’re not sure yet. . . but here’s what we do know:

  • The Green Ribbon Schools program is modeled after the successful Blue Ribbon Schools program – ED’s award program for recognizing excellence in education. This program will most likely be similar in the sense that it will be a highly competitive program that is a partnership between state agencies and the federal government.
  • The program will have three main areas: environmental education, energy efficiency and healthy environments. Under these three areas will be more specific categories of criteria, each of which will need to have some form of measurable metric.
  • The goal is to finalize and release the criteria in the fall of 2011 and be ready to announce the first round of winning schools by Earth Day 2012 – an ambitious but achievable goal.

While nothing seems to be set in stone, there did emerge some common visions for the program. One was the desire for the Green Ribbon Schools program to be an aspirational program, one through which model healthy and sustainable schools could inspire advocates and school stakeholders to create creative solutions to current problems. Such a common definition could become a powerful force for change.

My hope is that we can create a program that is not only aspirational, but also recognizes health in a broad way. I’d want to not only include environmental education, good air quality, energy and water efficiency, but also talk about issues such as locally sourced healthy food, adequate outdoor space for play and educational programming. . .  and how about adequate numbers of school nurses to support environmental health?

Fortunately, I’m not alone in this work. Not only does the team include 15 passionate advocates and content experts from four federal agencies, but now ED is reaching out to a broader audience for engagement.

This Friday, May 20, 2011 at 2:00 pm EST, ED is hosting a webinar to outline their vision of a Green Ribbon School program and to seek input from interested partners. You are invited to join the discussion. I ask you to listen in and share your thoughts. Should we include food, outdoor space, school nurses? Should we have a narrow definition of green schools, or should we use this opportunity to expand our vision? Let ED know. Let us know. If you would like to join this conference call, let ED know by emailing green.ribbon.schools(at)ed.gov with your name and affiliation. They will provide you with additional information for the call.

We’re planning on staying engaged on this topic and hope you will join the effort. I look forward to seeing the first Green Ribbon School winners next spring.