The Greenest School in America – Next City

The Greenest School in America

Kermit the Frog sang, “It’s not easy bein’ green,” and he’d know. Yet in this period of rapidly declining frog populations — amphibian mortality, like just about everything else, is now linked to climate change — being green does have its benefits.

For the Civano Community School in Tucson, being green means a $50,000 award for the school, a green iPod with a solar charger for each of the school’s 66 students, and a year’s supply of All Small and Mighty concentrated laundry detergent for parents. Civano’s neighborhood-based school — with its photovoltaic system, cisterns for harvesting rainwater, organic garden, composting and recycling center, and native desert landscaping — was chosen as the Greenest Grade School in America from more than 3,000 schools that entered the contest promoted by The Ellen Show and All.

Civano Community School.
The courtyard of the Civano Community School in Tucson. Photo by Simmons Buntin.

What makes the award so cool, besides the fact that my fifth- and second-grade daughters attend the shared-grade school, is that it is based as much on what students do at home as it is on the green features of the school itself. Each student wrote an essay about how he or she works to preserve the environment and completed a report card that gauged their environmental success. Our daughters focused on what they personally do, like walking to school or using dad’s recycled office paper for artwork, while also mentioning that we live in a pedestrian-oriented community in an energy-efficient house that features a passive solar collector for water heating, and reclaimed water for landscape irrigation. Okay, so the words they used weren’t as polysyllabic, perhaps, but the result was the same.

As a term, “green” has become as whitewashed and over- (and often improperly) used as other terms like sustainability and New Urbanism. For kids in grade school, however, it’s something they can associate with — a colorful term with the three Rs as its basis: reduce, reuse, recycle. More importantly, being green isn’t something kids of this generation strive to be, at least at this inspiring little school. It’s something they simply are.

Filming the greenest school in America.
Filming at the Civano Community School for the big announcement on The Ellen Show. Photo by Billie Harris-Buntin.

Thanks to a curriculum focused on community and environment, anything not green just isn’t right. And I believe that’s the right way to approach our personal and civic responsibilities to community and environment both.

Congratulations to the Civano Community School, to schoolmarm Pam Bateman and the other teachers and staff, and of course to the students. It’s not easy bein’ green, but with the school as an example, it gets easier everyday.