In 2016, the Charlottesville City School division received a 2016 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools District Sustainability Award. Just 3 organizations in Virginia and 15 districts across the country were honored. The award recognizes innovative efforts to reduce environmental impact and utility costs, improve health and wellness, and ensure effective sustainability education.
The Charlottesville City Schools’ environmental program relies on community partnership. In addition to the schools’ internal efforts, the school division received support from a host of departments from the City of Charlottesville, along with businesses such as Intrastate Pest Management and Republic Services, and also with nonprofits such as City Schoolyard Garden and the Local Food Hub, Sentara/Martha Jefferson Hospital and U.Va. Health System.
The impact of the plan is significant and features work in three areas:
- Reduce environmental impact and utility costs: Over the last 10 years, the schools have realized a 35% reduction in water usage, a 33% reduction in metric tons of carbon dioxide, and a 27% reduction in energy use. Significant projects with the City’s Public Works team include the upgrading of heating systems to energy-efficient systems, the in-house installation of a solar grid on the roof of Charlottesville High School, and the installation of bio-retention and rainwater harvesting systems that allow for the watering of practice fields and school gardens. In addition, recycling programs are division-wide, and the composting of lunch scraps is practiced in many schools.
- Improve health and wellness for students and staff: Many initiatives are in place, from healthier, fresher, more local school meals, to greener cleaning chemicals and pest management, to nature paths and outdoor garden classrooms made possible by a partnership with the local nonprofit City Schoolyard Garden. The school division works with the City to apply for grants such as the Safe Walk to School initiative that encourages young pedestrians and bike-riders. Schools partner with both local hospitals to offer a range of age-appropriate educational activities and to expose students to careers in health care. All of these practices are guided by the division’s Student Health Advisory Board and by partnerships with community organizations such as CACHY (Charlottesville-Albemarle Coalition for Healthy Youth). The division also offers a number of wellness initiatives for staff, including subsidized gym memberships, hike/bike incentives, and more.
- Provide effective sustainability education: Our schools feature actively used garden classrooms, the vision of City Schoolyard Garden. Their volunteers and employees work with school staff members to develop wide-ranging, hands-on lessons in areas such as math, science, reading, art, and of course ecology. The most developed gardening program is at Buford Middle School, where a team of students not only raise seedlings for their own use, but also give 1,000 away to nonprofits across the community. After studying watershed and other environmental issues, all fourth-graders spend a day at Camp Albemarle putting those lessons into practice. Classes at Charlottesville High School include an innovative garden-to-market program, environmental sciences, and biology I and II.