This is one of several Solutions Journalism stories published through a Grady capstone course that reported on housing issues during the fall of 2018.
How do you make big issues such as climate change and sustainability accessible to younger generations? That is a question Keep Athens-Clarke County Beautiful, a nonprofit organization within the Athens-Clarke County Solid Waste Department/Recycling Division, is trying to answer through the Athens Clarke-County Green Schools Program.
Bridging the gap between education and action is vital in environmental work, which is why KACCB partners with the ACC Recycling Division, Water Conservation, Stormwater Management, Planning Department and UGA Extension to address different environmental issues and provide educational materials around those issues.
“Green schools encompasses anything that’s environmental education. It could be water conservation and clean air, recycling, gardening, litter clean-ups,” said Stacy Smith, the program education specialist for KACCB.Why It’s Newsworthy: According to the Fourth Annual National Climate Assessment, the environmental and economic impacts of climate change can be mitigated by global-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Regional and local campaigns are vital in this effort, and programs such as the ACC Green Schools Program allow today’s youth to start practicing ways to be environmentally friendly.
Initiatives such as the Green Schools Program allow Athens-Clarke County students to go beyond lessons plans about environmental protection by showing them how they can be environmental stewards in Athens and at home.
“[Students] can conserve water in their homes. They can pick up litter in their neighborhoods. It’s not just a program where they do things in the classroom,” Smith said.
Examples of programs students can do at home include MLK Day of Service, Christmas tree recycling and cleaning up local churches and clubs.
“It definitely doesn’t stay at school because it’s a very applied to how we live and [our] understanding [of] where we live in our city,” Smith said.
The Green Schools program is open to all schools in Athens-Clarke County. More than 20 schools are participating in the 2018-19 school year, which is a jump from the two pilot schools that participated when the program started in 2003.
Many green school lessons focus on getting kids outside to do hands-on projects and become involved in recycling. Lessons are designed to help give students environmental tips they can apply at home, such as conserving water, cleaning up litter and being aware of their environment.
The goal is to educate students, since younger students are members of the city and can still affect the local environment.
They use products that need to be recycled. They use water. They use lights. Even though they’re small, it doesn’t really make a difference in the impact they can have,” Smith said.
The program began giving school grants in 2010 to allow local teachers to participate more in creating projects, Smith said. More than $14,000 and 63 grants have been awarded since 2010.
“We’ve always worked with teachers trying to bring more environmental education into the schools, and the grant just grew out of that in the teachers that we worked with to be able to support that better because sometimes materials or things like that can be a barrier,” Smith said.
Twenty-five credits is what it takes to be a green school under the Athens-Clarke County Green Schools program; the number is five to be a green teacher. However, one of the challenges for the program is supporting teacher involvement. Most eligible activities are only worth one to two points.
It may be difficult for teachers to fit in green school lessons and activities between their regular teaching requirements. Last year, approximately 100 teachers qualified, yet several hundred participated, Smith said.
“The point of the program is to make it really easy for [teachers] to bring environmental lessons into the classroom, but still, sometimes it’s hard for them to fit lessons in or have the time to explore doing more than meeting the standards of the requirements,” Smith said.
Smith said participating in the green school program is a good first step to going past learning about environmental issues to doing something about it. Students can see the impact of helping save water and power and cleaning up areas.
This approach to addressing environmental issues through the school system would be of great importance in areas that are already being directly impacted by climate change, such as the western United States, which is experiencing more wildfires as a result in rising temperatures and different rain patterns, and coastal areas impacted by the frequent occurrence of hurricanes. School programs push the idea that climate change is an issue that students must think about now in order to potentially create solutions in the future.
“[Environmental conservation is] a new skill now. A lot of our future jobs are going to be cleaning up the mess we’ve made of the environment,” Smith said.
[Students are] understanding that the city, the environment, belongs to them and they can do something to take care of it.”
Future steps for the Green Schools program include trying to create more partnerships with local environmental organizations, Smith said. Current efforts to create these partnerships include expanding their newsletter to include these organizations.
“We’d like to see more environmental organizations get involved with us so we can offer more to the teachers, just to let them know about different things they can do in Athens,” Smith said.
Danny McArthur is a fourth year majoring in journalism in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.