School’s back in session, and Illinois Green Alliance is kicking off the third cycle of the Illinois Green Schools Project. This year’s theme is “Path to Zero,” referring to the goal of net zero carbon emissions.
Participating schools engage in project-based challenges to develop and implement creative, low-cost, sustainable practices. Those schools receive resources and support from the Illinois Green Alliance to collaborate on a year-long project which they can present at the end of the school year. This is the third cycle of the program, which launched in 2020.
“We’re already experiencing issues when it comes to climate change,” said Liz Wimmer, a program manager at Illinois Green Alliance, “and our students and future generations are going to be feeling those impacts.”
Nine schools have registered for this year’s cycle, but according to Wimmer, the goal is to have 30 to 35 schools registered by the Sept. 12 deadline. Wimmer pointed out that schools’ hesitation to invest funds and energy into sustainable projects stems from schools’ shortage of funding that can be allocated for extracurricular initiatives, as well as teachers and staff feeling fatigued and overworked by the demands of the schoolyear and ultimately lacking the time and energy to oversee student projects.
“I want to support our students in finding opportunities to make a difference.” said Kenny Bae, science department lead teacher at Wolcott College Preparatory, “It’s not just textbook knowledge; we need to actually do projects that make an impact on the environment.”
Wolcott College Preparatory participated in last year’s “Energy & Justice at School” themed cycle which featured 23 completed projects from 29 participating schools across Illinois. More than 1700 students and 200 educators and school staff were involved in creating and implementing those projects.
Wolcott College Prep conducted an energy audit to determine where the school was using the most energy, and according to the 2021-2022 Project Impact report, the findings led to administrative changes in the school’s energy usage. Pleasantdale Elementary School students composted food waste to enrich soil. John Barry Elementary School students repurposed their trash into seed catapults and bird feeders. And Murphysboro Middle School students raised awareness about waste and energy usage in their school.
Educational institutions and districts in Illinois can also apply for the Illinois Green Ribbon Schools program which recognizes schools, districts, and higher education institutions with active programs dedicated to sustainability. Nominees are then submitted to the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools program which is a federal recognition award but, does not convey federal funding.
This year’s honorees from Illinois were Urban Prairie Waldorf School in Chicago, Community High School District 99 in Downers Grove, and Northwestern University in Evanston.
In terms of expanding the Green Schools Project, Wimmer hopes to enhance collaborations with CPS and the Illinois State Board of Education to capitalize on what she describes as the current momentum at every level of government to impact schools in a sustainable way.
“It really gives the students an opportunity to make a visible impact at their school and do something that they’re passionate about,” said Wimmer, “and it’s going to have a long-lasting impact.”