The Importance of Sustainability Education in Schools

By Kathy Croasdale, Senior Manager of ReNew Our Schools

Since its inception in 2008, I have been involved in the ReNew Our Schools Program. It has grown from a grant program to an energy competition that has involved many school districts along the Front Range. Many schools have succeeded in ways they could not have imagined. In addition to the formation of new environmental clubs, existing clubs have grown in size. As a result, there has been tremendous energy savings in schools and monetary savings in school districts.

My favorite part of the ReNew Our Schools program competition includes seeing students passionate about a real world issue, empowering them to become leaders in their school, and discovering a solution to a real-world problem. Participants get to be a part of all of these experiences without even leaving their building!

While teaching middle school science in Cherry Creek School District, both the Columbine tragedy and September 11, 2001 occurred. Those events affected our world and more specifically, the way we could teach. We could no longer freely take students outside into the world, security was strict, and the building was locked down. It was very frustrating to try to teach science without taking students out into the real world. It was my desire that students feel passionate enough about what was happening in the world in that it would encourage them to create change. Our program provides a way for students to be part of a solution to a real-world problem without even leaving their school building.

In order to be successful in the competition, students need to learn about energy conservation which is a topic that could be considered dull by current students’ standards. High value prizes provide motivation for the students to learn about energy conservation and use their knowledge to find a solution to the problem of how to save energy. Students have the challenge of convincing the faculty, staff, and fellow students to join the charge, so must know their facts and display leadership skills in their school to be successful. We give them plenty of tools, including the chance to work with and learn from the best! Our students have the opportunity to work with professional energy experts who mentor them during the competition.

The experience can be quite an analytic learning experience for students. They study their building and create a strategy to reduce energy totals the building and occupants use, which allows each school to offer a different solution to the problem. Since there is no right answer, our competition creates a very different experience for students in the standardized testing world of today.