MIDDLETOWN – Before Eva Sanderson first started teaching preschoolers at the Lucy School 10 years ago, she couldn’t help but wonder if the tiny private school’s focus on eco-friendliness and sustainability was just a gimmick.
“I was worried that the focus would be on green and less about the kids,” she said. “It was a learning process for me to find out that the children are greener than we are.”
The Lucy School, a private primary school nestled within the foothills of Frederick County in Middletown, is the brainchild of former college professor Victoria Brown and her husband, Chris Zachariadis. It started 10 years ago as a preschool with a focus on arts-based education.
But Zachariadis is quick to point out that being green was only one step in the process of building a well-rounded school that catered to the overall well-being of its students.
“We decided we needed the building to be consistent with the values of the school,” Zachariadis said. “So we decided to do it right. And doing it right meant doing it green.”
So they did. The school was constructed using eco-friendly practices and made largely from recycled materials. Its newest building became the first Maryland school building to receive a Platinum award in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, the highest possible rating.
This year, Lucy School is one of four Maryland schools nominated for the federal Green Ribbon Schools program.
Announced for the first time last September, the program was created to “encourage our nation’s schools and communities to promote healthy and sustainable environments and educate students to become environmentally literate citizens,” according to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
Thirty-three states participated in the program this year, with a maximum of four school nominations allowed per state.
Francis Scott Key Middle School in Silver Spring, Dunloggin Middle School in Ellicott City and Folger McKinsey Elementary School in Severna Park were the other Maryland nominees.
To win, schools must exemplify high achievement in the three pillars of environmental impact and energy efficiency, healthy school environments and environmental and sustainability education.
Gary Hedges, a science specialist at the Maryland State Department of Education who was heavily involved with Maryland’s inclusion in the program, said the Green Ribbon awards could only help his state’s schools.
“It’s not just related to things that happen in the classroom,” he said. “It gives schools an opportunity to reflect on what they have in place, and move forward to being exemplary.”
While Maryland schools only recently made environmental education part of the state curriculum, some schools were ahead of the curve.
Dunloggin Middle School in Howard County, for example, has been involved in an environmental restoration project over the years.
School officials have worked with the state government to create a wetland area behind the school’s property, which the school uses as a teaching tool for its students.
“It’s really developed into a nice ongoing project,” said Dan Blue, a science teacher at the school who was instrumental in the wetland’s development. “It’s been a school-wide effort.”
Other schools have used pushes from the state government to create green initiatives.
After Francis Scott Key Middle School in Montgomery County was rebuilt to LEED Gold certification standards three years ago, the school’s faculty and student body decided it wasn’t enough to just walk the walk.
They had to talk the talk, and they did that by creating carpools and hybrid parking, a recycling club that put more than 180 bins throughout the school and a container garden to help promote preservation, among other things.
Principal Myriam Rogers said winning a Green Ribbon award would mean a lot to her students, for whom environmental awareness has become a way of life.
“The students look at this as ‘This is what we do here. This is how we live,'” Rogers said. “The award reminds students that they’re doing something good, and that they should keep doing it when they leave.”
Victoria Brown, the Lucy School’s director, said receiving a Green Ribbon Award might validate the efforts of those who take the school’s conservation practices to heart.
“We don’t do the things we do just to get an award. But it would be a really nice thank you to the students and the teachers who’ve worked so hard,” Brown said.
Zachariadis said Lucy School’s students are taking eco-friendly home with them.
“They come home and say, ‘Don’t run the water, you have to save some for the fishies,'” Zachariadis said.
In the past decade, Zachariadis said he noticed greater numbers of parents driving their kids to school in hybrid cars. Parents constantly ask for advice about how to work on sustainability projects at home, he said.
And that’s what environmental education is all about, said Sue Bachmann, principal of Folger-McKinsey Middle School in Anne Arundel County.
“We’re educating the students and they’re involved with the issues,” Bachmann said. “They’re going to be a part of the community some day, and they’re taking those issues home with them.”