The following is cross-posted from the blog of the Healthy Schools Campaign. Ms. Davis was one of the judges of this year’s Student Showcase.
By Rochelle Davis, HSC President & CEO
Often, big ideas start with the most unexpected of sparks. For the third- and fourth-grade students of Polaris Charter Academy, a big energy-saving idea started with their school mascot: the polar bear. When students learned that the habitat of the polar bear is disappearing due to climate change, they decided to do something about it. The students, upon learning that energy usage is a major contributor to climate change, conducted an energy audit of their own school and created a series of recommendations based on their findings. They found by making simple, fundamental changes, such as reducing light usage and unplugging electronics over the weekend, they could save a significant amount of energy and contribute to a future for their beloved polar bears.
In February, Polaris students presented their work at the 2013 Climate Cycle Soiree, an annual event held by a fantastic Chicago organization that inspires students to explore their environment and prepares them to tackle the sustainability issues of our time.
Climate Cycle encourages teachers to bring environmental/climate change issues to the classroom in a way that empowers students to do something, and I was lucky enough to serve as a judge for this showcase of projects. I am very familiar with the thrill and challenge of running a student competition and it was a fun to be on the other side and judge these students as a part of the event. The Polaris project was just one of a diverse and wonderful range of projects created by amazing, smart kids.
Given our work at HSC, I was also impressed to see so many students taking on issues relating to school food. For Budlong Elementary’s “Greening the Cafeteria” project, students did a very good job of explaining how the food system uses a lot of energy, and connecting that to their own school. Walter Payton College Prep had a fantastic project on the importance of composting. And another group from Polaris presented research on water quality, our sewer system and how this relates to schools. This last project was particularly exciting to me, as the students identified several key sustainability issues and goals that we’ve been discussing related to our green schoolyard initiative.
We applaud the work of our friends at Climate Cycle in giving students a chance to learn about the environment and take action in their own schools and communities — and we applaud the amazing students for the high quality of these projects.