Green Kids & Communities

By Sara Vigneri

Teaching ‘green living’ in schools involves more than plopping a few recycling bins in classrooms. Global climate change, industrial agriculture, depletion of the earth’s natural resources—today’s schoolchildren will end up bearing the brunt of our current lifestyle in the U.S. Teaching children about sustainable living is vital for their future, and schools in the Lehigh Valley have begun to tackle the task. Here’s what schoolchildren in the Valley are up to:

A charter school in the East Penn school district, Seven Generations, opened its doors in 2009 and focuses on teaching sustainable living to its students. “Sustainability is not just a topic taught on Earth Day, it’s a consideration in every decision made by the school–from curriculum to cleaning products to community service programs to future garden projects,” says Mariska van Aalst, parent of a second-grader and a founder of the school. The school also encourages green living by bringing children outside, every day, to learn about the world while sitting among trees and grass and nature. They dub it “No Child Left Inside.”

Two small private schools in Allentown are working to teach kids about sustainable agriculture. At the Swain School, an organic garden was developed in 2008 and has since been named “Swain’s Fertile Grounds.” The garden has 17 raised beds and a chicken coop that the children check daily—the food is then used in the school lunch program. “The children have all planted, cared for and harvested the bounty,” says Cynthia Bardman, a science teacher at Swain who runs these programs. “Sometimes the food doesn’t even make it into the school.  The kids eat it right off the vines!” There is a botany lab growing hyproponics, a pond ecosystem and an Energy Action Patrol that monitors and encourages proper energy-saving activities throughout the school. Meanwhile, middle school students at the Jewish Day School have been collecting kitchen scraps from the cafeteria and composting them for use as fertilizer in a soon-to-be-built garden on the school grounds. The school also ran a Crocs® recycling drive and last year’s annual ArtsFest showcased student art projects made from recycled material. “Our first graders made a reading nook out of cereal boxes,” says Principal Sharon Fehlinger. Muhlenberg Elementary School also has a garden, which was planted by the Garden Club and is tended to by parents.

Future environmentalists at Parkland High School can now take an advanced placement class on Environmental Science; there are also earth-friendly classes offered to students in the lower schools at Parkland. Over at Easton High School students in the environmental class are working with Lutron Electronics to install and monitor energy-saving electric light ballast devices.

Some schools are incorporating green living into fundraising events. This year’s fundraising ball for Moravian Academy is called ‘Growing Green’ and includes a farm-to-table buffet. In the months leading up to the April ball, the school had been working on green projects with the children that will be showcased at the event including a passive solar collector and a wind turbine. Students in the upper school are collecting data for the Carbon Footprint Independent Study Project. They are evaluating the carbon footprint produced by the entire academy during the 2007-2008 academic year and will then create a plan to reduce the footprint.

The East Penn School District has a few initiatives underway. The Garden Club at Alburtis Elementary School has been in place for five years. They plant, grow, and harvest organic vegetables for the cafeteria salad bar. Wescosville Elementary School ran a clothing recycling drive and composts the kitchen scraps from the cafeteria.

For information on how to incorporate green living into your school, go to for some great ideas about teaching sustainable living and creating earth-friendly classroom environments.

Sara Vigneri, an experienced health journalist, dreams about building a chicken coop in her tiny Allentown backyard.

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