Facts, Data, Basics
In 2016, Charlottesville City Schools received federal recognition for our environmental and wellness programs! To learn more about this 2016 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools District Sustainability Award, click here. In addition, all nine of Charlottesville City Schools were awarded 2017 Virginia Naturally Schools designation for our efforts in supporting environmental conservation and stewardship.
Through our buildings, practices, and partnerships, Charlottesville City Schools has made great gains in energy-efficiency, sustainability, and eco-friendliness. We also offer a number of hands-on environmental education programs so that our students can get their hands in the garden — or the Rivanna River. Click on a tab, below, to learn more.
- For more on STEM education at Charlottesville City Schools, click here.
Students at City Schools learn about the natural world through experiential learning projects that take them outside to the schoolyard and beyond.
All CCS fourth-grade students take a field trip to Camp Albemarle to learn about watershed issues through field-based activities.
City Schoolyard Garden
City Schoolyard Garden is a non-profit organization operating independently of the Charlottesville City Schools, though in close partnership with the division in developing opportunities for a district wide project-based learning initiative. City Schoolyard Garden has operated at Buford Middle School since 2010, at elementary schools since 2012, and at CHS and Lugo-McGinness Academy since 2015. City Schoolyard Garden works in partnership with Charlottesville City Schools to cultivate academic achievement, health, environmental stewardship and community engagement through garden-based, experiential learning.
BACON “Best All-Around Club of Nerds”
The CHS Science Club (aka BACON, Best All-around Club of Nerds) takes club members outside and around the globe to explore and compete in science investigations. They have a “Green BACON” emphasis for students interested in environmental issues.
Classes that raise environmental awareness at Charlottesville High School include an innovative garden-to-market CTE class, environmental sciences, and biology I and II. CHS also partners with groups such as the Charlottesville Astronomical Society to offer school-wide evening “Star Parties” with telescopes (and hot chocolate).
McIntire Park Herpetofauna Survey
Through this project, CHS biology students conducted a herpetofauna (amphibian and reptile species) survey of McIntire Park. They used their data to create a herptofauna field guide for the Park and a GIS map of the Park indicating the distribution of species, habitat parameters, and recreational usage, among many other thematic layers.
Learning Outside the Bricks
Many of our schools have trails, creeks, and outdoor classrooms — not to mention our partnership with City Schoolyard Garden (see above). Our 2017-2023 Strategic Plan encourages maximal use of gardens and other outdoor or non-traditional learning spaces on our campuses and beyond. In addition to our annual fourth-grade field trip to Camp Albemarle, many of our schools make one-time or regular visits to Crozet’s scenic Wildrock, which is dedicated to promoting “nature play for health and happiness.”
One example of our campus’s outdoor learning opportunities is Jackson-Via Elementary School. In 2009, design professionals at the Charlottesville Community Design Center’s Design Marathon in 2009 created a master plan for outdoor learning on the 20+ acre property. The master plan includes 10+ acres of woodland, edible gardens, habitat gardens, and spaces where children can learn and appreciate the natural world while meeting curriculum goals. An already completed mini-meadow installation consists primarily of butterfly host and nectar plants, using 99% native plant material. The mini-meadow will eventually be part of a larger “meadow walk.” The group also plans to plant a child-size orchard of sour cherry and pawpaw trees.
Safe Routes to Schools
Charlottesville City Schools partners with the City of Charlottesville’s “Safe Routes to Schools” program to encourage students to walk or ride their bikes to school. PE teachers at all elementary schools, including Walker, use a fleet of “Safe Routes to School” bikes to teach riding and road safety skills during gym. And school-based events such as Walking Wednesdays also encourage students to skip the bus or car.
Wildrock is a natural play area in Crozet, VA, that “promotes nature play for health and happiness.” From preschool through high school, Wildrock partners with our students to promote active play and a connection to the great outdoors so that our students and staff have access to the emotional and physical therapeutic benefits of nature. In addition to on-site programs at Wildrock, the staff also brings pop-up play stations to our schools.
Charlottesville City Schools and City of Charlottesville Public Works department work together to reduce the environmental footprint of our school buildings and operations. From 2007-2017, the schools realized a 35% reduction in water usage, a 33% reduction in metric tons of carbon dioxide, and a 27% reduction in energy use.
- Seven of nine Charlottesville City schools are now certified as ENERGY STARS® by the US Department of Environmental Protection.
- All schools have single-stream recycling systems in place.
- All schools have adopted integrated pest management programs. Low toxicity controls are used for insects and other pests whenever possible.
- Charlottesville High School features a solar photovoltaic system on a section of its roof that provides output data on a screen at the school’s front entrance. A group of teachers develops plans for integrating the data into curriculum and instruction. The project was made possible in spring 2011 when the City of Charlottesville was awarded a grant from the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy. Other solar arrays are at Buford Middle School (powering its garden’s hoophouse) and at our alternative learning center, Lugo-McGinness Academy, where approximately 50% of the building’s energy needs are supplied by its array.
- From 2007-2017, heating plants in all schools have been upgraded from antiquated 60-70%-efficient heating plants to new 90+%- efficient boilers.
- Charlottesville High School, Venable and Burnley-Moran Elementaries, and Buford Middle School have rainwater catchment systems and bio-retention areas that capture rainwater to use for the high school athletic field and school gardens. Buford uses bicycle-power to pump the water for their garden classroom and solar-powered hoophouse. Part of the CHS parking lot is now rain permeable.
- Charlottesville City Schools received the top award for its category in the 2011 Green Schools Challenge, an initiative of the Virginia Municipal League in partnership with the Virginia School Boards Association that encourages implementation of environmental policies and practices that reduce carbon emissions generated by the local school division and the broader community. The school division was a second-place winner in the 2009 Green Schools Challenge.
Healthy, Eco-Friendly Cafeterias
- An ongoing partnership with the Local Food Hub provides resources, assistance, and access to fresh produce from more than 80 local farms.
- When possible, local produce is served along with daily fruit and vegetable choices. (And we cook from scratch when we can to minimize sugar, salt, and fat.)
- Our staff and programs have won awards. In 2011, we were named a Trailblazer for our early commitment to local foods, and in 2015, our “Harvest of the Month” program, offered through a partnership with City Schoolyard Garden, received recognition. (The program supplies fresh, local snacks monthly to our elementary students.)
- School cafeterias have reduced solid waste by eliminating polystyrene foam food containers from daily use.
- We are beginning to rebuild our previously robust cafeteria composting program. Prior to an operating haitus of our composting partner, Walker Upper Elementary, Buford, Burnley-Moran, and CHS worked with Black Bear Composting in running a composting program for scraps from school cafeterias. Black Bear Composting picks up the bags of waste and returns three months later with compost that can be used to augment the school’s landscaping or schoolyard garden. In its initial stages, the Walker program converted 8.69 tons of would-be trash into garden gold.
- All schools feature “sharing tables” to minimize waste for items such as unopened milk or untouched fruit.
- We celebrate Virginia Farm to School Week, but we can’t contain ourselves to just one week. We have fun at all of the schools, hosting events which include taste tests and visits from farmers and their friends, such as chickens, bees, and goats. We’ve also done garden-to-table salad making, and stew cooking with school-grown potatoes. The Buford Harvest Festival, is an annual division-wide celebration, hosted in partnership with City Schoolyard Gardens and Local Food Hub with the goal of sharing these opportunities with the community.
The City of Charlottesville and Charlottesville City School Division have been partners in addressing a spectrum of environmental concerns for many years. Plans, policies, improvements, and technologies are continually evolving and offering new opportunities including:
- Environmental Management Policy
- Energy Improvement Plan
- Greenhouse gas emissions inventory
- Energy STAR ratings for 7 of 9 schools
- Schools Energy Audits
- Renewable energy installations
- Dark Sky compliance measures
- “Green fleet” policy for school buses
- Integrated Pest Management
Other Community Partners
- Jackson-Via Elementary and Buford Middle School are enrolled in the City’s Adopt-a-Stream Program.
- Charlottesville High School partners with UVA students and staff in monitoring performance of the biofilter at CHS and solar photovoltaic cells. The study of the biofilter is a collaborative effort between the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, under contract with the Rivanna River Basin Commission (RRBC), the City of Charlottesville and CHS, and the University of Virginia. The installation of the biofilter was partially funded by the RRBC through a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), in partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency.
- The Center for Watershed Protection – A non-profit organization that provides practical and technical information for people and communities interested in protecting and restoring urban watersheds.
- Safe Routes to School — A national program that assists communities in enabling and encouraging children to safely walk and bike to school.
- Virginia Green Schools Challenge — A program sponsored by the Virginia School Boards Association that awards points for 33 environmental initiatives.