Robbinsdale’s SEA School Wins Prestigious Environmental Award
The Robbinsdale School District’s School of Engineering and Arts in Golden Valley is in rare company this year. It’s one of 39 schools nationwide, and the only one in Minnesota, to be named a 2020 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School.
“It’s amazing,” said Dr. Cara Rieckenberg, STEAM program coordinator with the School of Engineering and Arts (SEA). “It’s really awesome.”
Winning that green ribbon isn’t easy. Schools have to show “significant achievement” in three areas: environmental education, improving student wellness and reducing environmental impact.
“It’s very much all-encompassing,” said Rieckenberg. “One big piece is how we integrate environmental education.”
Staff carefully incorporates the school’s campus into lesson plans. Since 2012, the school installed native plant gardens, a butterfly garden, and even an orchard throughout its grounds. They chose plants that don’t need to be irrigated. Along with efforts within the building to reduce water consumption, the reduction in irrigation needs played a big part in the DOE’s awarding the ribbon.
And those native grounds provide more than just ecological education. Staff utilize the grounds as outdoor classrooms in a variety of subjects. They even teach students non-related subjects, just to give a change of pace from sitting inside. While learning outside, students take care of the grounds, including the school’s forest, gardens and even chickens. The kids particularly enjoy the chickadee landing, a circle of benches around bird feeders where students can sit and make observations of chickadee behavior.
Exterior Changes Only the Beginning.
For eight years, the school has also worked to reduce its environmental impact from within the building. They have installed low-flow sinks, automatic-flush toilets, and other water-saving measures to lower trash output. When the trash reduction program started, the school filled a 4-yard dumpster with trash on a daily basis. Meanwhile, the school filled the same size dumpster for recycling twice a week. Now, the recycling dumpster has outpaced the trash one, with just under 33 cubic yards of trash to just over 43 cubic yards of recycling.
They’ve even implemented a “Junior Naturalist” program where student leaders are encouraged to point out things that could be done better.
“They like to come around and catch me leaving my lights on,” says Principal Heather Hanson. “They give me a note that I did a bad job.”
All these initiatives and more led to the Green Ribbon award – and that’s something school staff want to celebrate. The only trouble is, with students at home because of the COVID-19 outbreak, celebrating is a little tough.
But that’s not stopping SEA.
“We’re going to come up with some creative ways that we can celebrate,” said Hanson. “Because in the midst of the dark cloud, this is a real ray of sunshine for us. It’s something to be celebrated and be proud of.”