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District Named Prestigious U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School District Sustainability Awardee

BW students with plantsStudents at Brittany Woods Middle School show off their fresh lettuce harvest grown in the school’s Giving Garden. In May, the District was honored as a U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School District Sustainability Awardee for its integration of outdoor school gardens into its grades K-12 STEAM curriculum and its use of the gardens in community service projects promoting sustainability. 

More than 10 years ago, district leadership staff shared a vision as they planned for the construction of two new buildings to house Barbara C. Jordan and Pershing Elementary Schools. The schools, both north of Olive Boulevard in historically Black neighborhoods, would distinctly look forward in a world where environmental sustainability was becoming increasingly urgent.

What resulted under the leadership of former Superintendent Joylynn Pruitt-Adams was the construction of two Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified schools, a prestigious designation that recognizes buildings that are healthy, energy efficient and cost-saving. It was not a coincidence that the state-of-the-art buildings were built in neighborhoods ready for investment and innovation.

The buildings were a starting point for a new journey for the District. Students, staff and ensuing leadership began exploring and integrating environmental conservation and sustainability into student learning and social experiences.

On April 25, that journey reached a significant landmark, when The School District of University City was named a 2022 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School District Sustainability Awardee. The District was one of only two school systems in Missouri to be selected for the honor. Principia School in St. Louis County was the other.

Across the country, 27 schools, five school districts and four postsecondary institutions were honored for their innovative efforts to reduce environmental impact and utility costs, improve health and wellness, and ensure effective sustainability education.

“Our youth will be tasked with restoration of our living planet while solving very real issues of scarcity, sustainability and racially unjust systems.”

Sharonica Hardin-Bartley
Superintendent of Schools

“As educators, we owe it to our students and our local and global community to be as responsive to and appreciative of the environment as possible. The environment includes our social-emotional well-being and support,” said Superintendent Sharonica Hardin-Bartley. “And, yes, racial equity matters! Our youth will be tasked with the restoration of our living planet while solving very real issues of scarcity, sustainability and racially unjust systems. The Green Ribbon is an honor that speaks to us and the future holistic wellness of our children, their children and their grandchildren.”

The prestigious honor took into account the District’s considerable work in integrating equity, student action and community well-being into its environmental learning activities, particularly on issues of scarcity, relationship-building and fair access to healthy resources for all citizens. Though there is still much work to be done – several of the District’s buildings are older and in need of upgrades for energy efficiency – the judges took notice, stating the following:

“In addition to tending to food gardens with garden facilitators at every site, students at (the) middle school also care for chickens and tend to bees. The gardens are not only working laboratories to learn about ecosystems, environmental sustainability, and growing food, they also integrate the arts, student service projects, and other outdoor activities that demonstrate the district’s commitment to social-emotional learning, trauma-informed schools, and racial equity.”

District staff and volunteers maintain school gardens at the preschool, elementary and middle schools and intentionally tie student experiences in those gardens to aligned STEAM lessons and activities from preschool to grade 12. In the past two years, Brittany Woods Middle School Teacher Anne Cummings began teaching Sustainability I and II classes in which students design and execute significant community service projects. This includes the creation of Growing Together: The U. City Schools Food Gardening Network, which provides free vegetable plants, gardening materials and tools to encourage food gardening in households across University City. The event strives to include residents in the joy and community of growing food, and ensures that a lack of resources is not a barrier.

Students as young as kindergartners are further engaged in social action regarding conservation, recycling and fair access to resources. At Jackson Park Elementary School, for example, students participated in a peaceful neighborhood march for clean water in all communities and further raised money for Flint, Michigan, residents who continue to deal with lead contamination in their water system.

The judges also recognized that U. City students practice environmental stewardship because they are given the power, voice and tools to shape their own school community to be healthy and well. The District was commended for its high school Restorative Practices class, trauma specialists, social workers and nurses at each school building. The District was also lauded for creating considerable partnerships with premier environmental and science institutions, including the Saint Louis Zoo, The Green Center, St. Louis Science Center, St. Louis Aquarium and Forest Park.

In July, Curriculum and Instructor Coordinator Beverly Velloff and Cummings attended a reception in Washington, D.C., for all the awardees. Pruitt-Adams was also honored for her contributions at the May 19 regular University City Board of Education meeting.

Green Schools awardees in DCBrittany Woods Middle School Teacher Anne Cummings, left, and Curriculum and Instruction Coordinator Beverly Velloff, right, traveled to Washington, D.C., to attend a special reception on July 26, 2022, honoring this year’s U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School District Sustainability Awardees.