By Rebecca Schmitz
The Virginia Department of Education has selected Crozet Elementary as one of four Virginia schools nominated for the national Green Ribbon School award. The award recognizes schools that have reduced their environmental impact and costs, improved the health and wellness of their students and staff, and provided educational opportunities focused on sustainability and the environment. Crozet Elementary received the prestigious Green Ribbon designation for its many achievements related to the environment, including saving $6,000 through composting and mixed-use recycling, and creating outdoor learning spaces such as gardens and habitats that encourage students to protect, preserve, and care for the environment. The school also partners with Western Albemarle’s environmental studies academy to mentor future young environmentalists.
Principal Gwedette Crummie, who has made environmental responsibility a priority during her five years at the school, is pleased that the efforts of staff and students are being recognized by the state. “Our core is community, and that will never change,” she says. “The kids here love being outdoors and they love the environment. The kids recognize that protecting and loving nature is going to help the community in the long run.”
Students and teachers have worked hard to create a “green” environment. The school’s rain garden habitat, three years in the making, was designed and created by second grade students and their teachers with support from parents and sponsors such as Piedmont Master Gardeners and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF). In October 2014, the garden, a self-sustaining habitat for a variety of Virginia plants and animals, was designated a Certified Schoolyard Habitat by the VDGIF. Students from all grades now use the garden to enhance their studies of life sciences and the environment. A digital weather station, also part of the project, is attached to a nearby shed and tracks temperature and humidity.
The school also has a running trail circling the grounds that is used by physical education classes and others in the community as a way to experience nature while building strong bodies. The fifth graders designed and built a butterfly garden in honor of an active PTO parent, Brenda Yordy, who died of breast cancer. Yordy loved nature, and the garden created in her memory is a quiet place for the students to observe and enjoy their natural surroundings.
Students in all grades serve as environmental stewards. Upper-grade students take turns being compost “police” by monitoring composting and ensuring it’s being done correctly. Kids in the after-school program learn about gardening by planting and taking care of vegetables in the composted soil. Second graders are encouraged to pick up litter and keep the school grounds clean.
Crummie noted that while at first students had to be gently reminded to clean up trash if they saw it, they now pick up litter on their own, without being reminded. “We’re getting them to be self-sufficient,” she said. “They have really become environmental stewards. Our goal is for them to become life-long learners and respect the environment they live in.”
The winners of the Green Ribbon award will be announced on Earth Day, April 22. Winning schools will receive a special display banner and be invited to a June recognition ceremony in Washington, D.C.
Bassett High School in Henry County, Coles Elementary School in Prince William County, and the private Steward School in Richmond were the other three schools in Virginia nominated for the award.