Teams from twenty-five Westchester County public school districts and private schools participated in the inaugural Green Schools Coalition of Westchester Membership Conference on Saturday, November 14. The goal of this highly participatory five-hour event was to provide opportunities for county schools to collaborate and share resources to support their sustainability plans.
“I was extremely excited to attend the conference with a student, parent, teacher and administrator, representing the Mamaroneck Schools and community,” commented Superintendent Dr. Paul Fried. “The participation of this representative leadership team will not only signal the importance of the work ahead, but will also mobilize the entire community. The conference itself was well planned and highly motivational.”
Dr. Fried attended a workshop on the “Sustainability Curriculum,” which helped participants explore possible educational strategies connected to the introduction of a sustainability framework into the classroom. “I found the presentation and discussion to be both thoughtful and helpful as our Mamaroneck team plans next steps,” he remarked.
“The group clearly has a shared sense of urgency, and a feeling that we can take on this difficult, but essential, work as a coalition. I was thrilled to hear about all of the great things underway at schools- from composting and zero-waste days, to energy improvement contracts, to- perhaps most importantly- changes in curriculum to incorporate systems thinking and sustainability. We have great possibilities before us!” Drew Patrick, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, Bedford Central School District
Coalition co-sponsors, The Children’s Environmental Literacy Foundation (CELF), Teatown Lake Reservation and Westchester County, created the Green Schools Coalition of Westchester (GSCW) in response to a recommendation by the Education Sector of the Westchester County Global Warming Task Force. The idea was to create an ongoing program that would further advance education and best practices for sustainability in the schools and communities across the county.
The program was help in a building considered a “model of sustainability,” the Reckson Metro Center at 360 Hamilton Avenue in White Plains. Reckson, a division of SL Green, was a co-sponsor on the event.
The conference format and content was based upon feedback from 60 plus public schools/districts and independent schools that responded to the GSCW questionnaire regarding school sustainability issues. The strong feeling across stakeholders and districts was that a vehicle was needed to share information, resources and content.
Conference keynote speaker Dr. David Hursh, Associate Professor of Education at the Warner School of Education at the University of Rochester, shared his background and experience in sustainability education with the group. He discussed ideas from his upcoming book, We All Live Downstream: Interdisciplinary Learning through Environmental Health Science. He said he was impressed with the conference, its participants and the notable progress in “greening schools and curriculum” he witnessed in Westchester.
“Over the last several years I have been visiting schools and school districts to learn as much as I can about cutting edge ideas in environmental sustainability and was very pleased to learn that the best work is occurring close to home in Westchester County. Further, not only did I find the conference energizing, but clearly the participants did as well, as many talked with me about what they were doing and hoped to do. I returned home to upstate NY thinking about how we might take our first steps to duplicate the wonderful work going on in Westchester.” David Hursh, Warner School of Education, University of Rochester
Conference attendance was strong from all stakeholder groups, including eight district/school superintendents/headmasters from Blind Brook, Briarcliff, Byram Hills, Hackley, Hendrick Hudson, Mamaroneck, White Plains, and Yorktown. Importantly, also in attendance were seven directors of business and facilities. Total registration included 120 participants; several member schools/districts were unable to attend due to school event conflicts.
Teams composed of a student, teacher, administrator, facilities manager and parent, heard from speakers and worked together in breakout sessions first by stakeholder group and then by topic, and finally reconvened to share feedback and discuss next steps for their districts. Teams will now carry information learned and ideas shared back to their schools and districts to distribute to their larger school communities, build action plans and continue to work together to “green” their school communities.
“The breakout sessions in the a.m. were very useful: I always appreciate when all our county’s diverse districts have the opportunity to come together and share ideas about what each other is doing or hopes to accomplish. I felt my couple of suggestions and comments were well-received, and I know the other teachers felt the same about their contributions. The facilitators always kept the sessions hopping, as well.” Charles Fulco, Environmental Science/Planetarium Coordinator, Port Chester Middle School
Parents are leveraged for district success
Often parents feel at a loss when thinking about how to get involved in a meaningful and enduring way in the efforts to green their school district. With this concern in mind, the coalition purposely included a parent representative on each coalition team.
Tony Fareed, Managing Director, Bridge Global Capital, shared feedback from his experience: “There was one clear message I carried away from the GSCW conference as the Hendrick Hudson School District’s community representative: parents can be leveraged to accelerate opportunities for schools to incorporate relatively easy, yet meaningful, programs and events for sustainability awareness and education. We have a lot to offer, but often times there’s not an easy way to get involved. This new coalition will provide a platform for schools and participating parents to share tools and strategies that will assist in getting more parents involved in the increasingly important topic of sustainability.”
Student representatives – a powerful voice
Each team included a student from one of their district’s schools who could carry the message back to the student body as well as continue to work with the faculty, staff and parents throughout the coming year on district initiatives. Regardless of early Saturday morning hour and length of the conference, this student group, facilitated by GSCW Director Steve Frantz and CELF Intern and Pace University sophomore Taylor Vogt (also President of Wave-of-Green), worked tirelessly and passionately to provide ideas for one another and their districts.
Upcoming GSCW Event
At the conference Steve Frantz announced that the GSCW will be a co-sponsor of the CELF 2010 “Students for a Sustainable Future EXPO.” Hosted annually at Pace University in Pleasantville, the Expo will be held on April 20th from 6 – 9pm. Schools, corporations, non-profits and organizations register as exhibitors to showcase best practices in sustainability to middle and high school students from across the region. Visitors learn about future academic paths, careers, and consumer choices that support a sustainable future. This year’s event will feature guest speakers and special workshops for Coalition members. Registration for the Expo exhibitors and visitors opens December 15th online at: www.celfeducation.org.
How to Join GSCW
Superintendents and headmasters may register “teams” to become members of the Coalition. Each five-member team must include a student, teacher, parent, district administrator or headmaster, and a facilities administrator. GSCW is committed to serving all stakeholders in Westchester’s school communities. In order to join, schools must pledge support for the ideals of sustainability education and recognition of its importance (see Westchester County Climate Action Plans for K-12 Schools and Higher Education at www.westchestergov.com/environment_gscw.htm ). GSCW members must attend conferences and meetings and agree to collaborate with other Westchester school teams to support their shared vision.
For further information, contact GSCW Director and Scarsdale Schools Sustainability Coordinator Steve Frantz at (914) 874-5095, or email: Stevenf941@aol.com.