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'Green Ribbon Schools' Educate America's Future Environmental Leaders

A new U.S. Department of Education program is giving formal recognition to green schools.

For the past 30 years, the U.S. Department of Education’s Blue Ribbon Schools program has given a stamp of approval to schools that succeed academically. But other kinds of performance matter too, so last fall the department announced the creation of the Green Ribbon Schools program, which recognizes schools committed to "reducing environmental impact, promoting health, and ensuring a high-quality environmental and outdoor education."

This week, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the inaugural crop of winners—78 schools from across the country that teach students the skills and ideas they need to become environmental leaders. On the White House Blog, Duncan wrote that the schools are using an impressive variety of methods to reduce their carbon footprint.

"We’re honoring schools that use green roofs, pervious pavement, rain gardens, rain barrels, rain cisterns and low-flow water equipment of all types," Duncan wrote. Some schools have buses that run on "ultra-low sulfur diesel, compressed natural gas or the discarded cooking oils of local restaurants." And in the cafeteria and classroom, the winning schools use "reusable snack bags and water bottles; dine with reusable plates, napkins and utensils for meals; and save paper by converting to digital assignments and grading."

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson also applauded the efforts of the Green Ribbon Schools, saying they help "maximize learning and minimize risks like asthma" by reducing pollution around school sites. And because children living in low-income areas tend to have higher rates of asthma and live closer to Superfund sites and industrial polluters, it's encouraging that half of the winning schools are high-poverty campuses.

The Green Ribbon Schools are educating a new generation of students who know firsthand why taking steps like increasing air quality standards is so critical. And thanks to their schools, they're learning the skills to do something about it.

Photo via Environmental Charter High School

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