We teach sustainability, and our young people practice what they learn. They take the lead in proposing new projects. Then they hold us accountable. We’re a better school because of their knowledge and involvement.
West Chester, PA (PRWEB) February 27, 2013
Westtown School is one of four Pennsylvania schools competing for the national Green Schools Award. Winners will be announced in April by the U.S. Department of Education. Westtown, a Quaker college preparatory school in West Chester, was recognized February 21 by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as a Pennsylvania Pathways School, according to Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis, for its work in reducing environmental impact and costs, improving health and wellness of students and staff, and providing effective environmental and sustainability education.
According to Westtown Sustainability Coordinator Judy Asselin, an institutional commitment to environmental education is the driving force behind the success of Westtown’s wide-ranging initiatives. “We teach sustainability, and our young people practice what they learn. They take the lead in proposing new projects. Then they hold us accountable. We’re a better school because of their knowledge and involvement.”
Westtown has an explicit goal of creating an environmentally literate and responsible community of students, faculty, staff and families whose daily actions reflect care for the earth and its biodiversity. Sustainability themes appear throughout the K-12 curriculum in subjects that range from history, science, English, world languages and math to the arts, economics and health. Westtown offers rigorous advanced courses in Research Ecology and Environmental Science, both of which use the school’s 600-acre campus as a teaching laboratory. And all students rotate through the one-acre student organic farm as part of their studies.
Westtown’s Pennsylvania Pathways recognition and Green Ribbon School nomination also results from the adoption of a series of increasingly robust campus energy policies in recent years. Since 2007, the school cut consumption of electricity by 15.5% and reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 25%. Asselin explains it is moving aggressively to reduce GHG emissions even further, nearing completion of a two-year contract to purchase 100% solar and wind generated electricity beginning June 2013. “Our goal is to cut electricity use another 35% by 2020 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 by taking one building off our gas-powered steam plant every five years.”
Additional campus energy savings are derived from geothermal systems in five campus buildings and a 44 kilowatt solar voltaic array on Westtown’s Athletic Facility, which generates 60,000 kilowatt hours per year. A newly-renovated Facilities Building earned LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Commercial Interiors Certification, and most recently, Westtown’s Board of Trustees approved construction of a $13M Science Center which is designed to LEED Gold standards. Waste diversion – recycling and composting – has increased from 20% to 51%: in the Green Schools Alliance Recycle Challenge this past October, Westtown earned 96% and was named a “Recycling Hero,” placing 4th out of 67 schools nationwide.
Westtown is also dedicated to enhancing the health and well-being of students and staff, another one of the criteria for finalist selection. The dining room serves food harvested by students on the teaching farm, and 13% of food purchases are local or organic. Westtown co-founded the PAISBOA (Pennsylvania Association of Independent Schools Business Officers Association) Farm-to-School initiative that has provided structure and inspiration for 20 member schools throughout the Delaware Valley to source more of their food locally. Health classes emphasize good nutrition, vegetarian and vegan offerings have resulted in a positive shift in student and staff food selections, and daily physical education is required for all students. To improve air quality, the school has adopted a “No Vehicle Idling” policy.
Judy Asselin is quick to point out that although these recent strides in sustainability are impressive – and award-winning – they are part of Westtown’s proud 212-year heritage. “Westtown School is rooted in Quaker beliefs, one of which is stewardship of the earth. Our practice has evolved, but it grows out of a wise tradition.”