Detroit Public Schools’ Go Green Program Makes Progress

Detroit Lions Academy's Sustainability Coordinator, Joann Brown, marks down where to put rain barrels around the school to capture rainwater to irrigate their recently planted garden boxes.
Detroit Lions Academy’s Sustainability Coordinator, Joann Brown, marks down where to put rain barrels around the school to capture rainwater to irrigate their recently planted garden boxes.

Go Green teams

The conversation centered around the water cycle and recycling, and moved on to placement of water barrels to catch rainwater for irrigation. The mood was interested and attentive. These seventh and eighth graders at alternative education school, Detroit Lions Academy, had to undergo an interview process just to be on their school’s green team, and they were learning about conservation, some for the first time.

Next came a tour of the school to find downspouts and decide where to put the rain barrels. The students were oblivious to the fences surrounding the school and the jovial security guard that patrolled the halls and greeted all visitors coming in the front door, but they did notice that their school had a problem when it came to collecting the needed rainwater – their roof was almost completely flat. Upon returning to the classroom, they worked on some calculations with their teacher, Joann Brown and DPS/AmeriCorps advisor, Alessandra Carreon, who turned it into a math problem, and decided that they might just be able to collect enough rainwater, after all.

Looking ahead to the next meeting, the team planned how they would shop around for good prices with their established $500 budget. They also discussed how they might select a student and adult community member to tend to their planter boxes in the schoolyard during the summer. Currently the boxes hold mums, but there were some queries about what types of vegetables they might grow and possibly use in their cafeteria. On their future agenda: a recycling campaign for Earth Day.

These students have come a long way in just a few short months since the DPS Go Green program launched in November. Many of these students never gave a thought as to where their tap water came from, despite living and going to school practically on the banks of the Detroit River, and now they know that their water is drawn from the Great Lakes and why they should capture rainwater for irrigation rather than use a hose.

In closing, Ms. Brown underlined the importance of developing sustainable habits as they learn about conservation. One of the goals of the program is for students to learn and bring home their knowledge to their families and community.

When asked what the most surprising fact they have learned so far, eighth grader, Raphael Griffin, volunteered simply, “If you recycle, you won’t have trash.” The other green team members nodded in agreement. Trash is ever-present in some neighborhoods in Detroit, so many learn to ignore it, but implementing a recycling habit could go a long way toward cleaning up the community.

Ms. Brown added, “I learned that the costs aren’t that much compared to what you save.”

Go Green midterm awards

Detroit Lions Academy receives special honors for additional green initiatives.

Green teams have been established at each of the participating schools and are overseen by Detroit AmeriCorp members. The focus of the Go Green Challenge was to reduce energy costs in schools by 10 percent. The goals include educating students about energy and sustainability, protect and enhance the environment and reduce energy costs.

The schools who submitted timely reports and made progress toward their energy goal were recognized at the midterm Go Green awards held at the Golightly Technical Center on February 13. The level of participation and enthusiasm is inspiring: the atmosphere at the awards ceremony was one of enthusiasm and pride in their accomplishments.

  • 54 green teams are participating in the program
  • 34 were recognized as leaders for making progress reducing energy use and submitting monthly reports on time
  • 5 schools were recognized for completing the Go Green Challenge projects issued since November and for engaging students, faculty and staff in school sustainability initiatives
  • 600+ people are involved in the program
  • 1,152 lightbulbs were replaced during numerous incandescent lightbulb hunts, equaling a savings of more than $20,000
  • 25 energy monitors hand out “tickets” for poor energy use (leaving lights or computers on, etc.)
  • 50+ sustainability activities since November
  • More than 650 students are participating in the program
  • 900+ hours of sustainability learning
  • 100 parents have attended sustainability workshops
  • 500 free home energy visits are planned during the summer of 2013

Each of the five schools who received special honors came to the podium to talk about their individual efforts. A few engaged in friendly competition over how many phone books each had gathered for recycling. Noble’s Barb Wisnieski talked about incorporating the Go Green Challenge principles into her curriculum, while Osborn Prep’s James Jennings said, “The students will make  the three R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle) a way of life after being in this program for a few years in school.”

A sixth grader at Carstens, Kelsey Dinwiddie, came dressed for the event.

DPS is also participating in a special new program created by Office Depot especially for schools. Akoco Grace, Vertical Market Manager for Office Depot explained that the Recycling Rules program registers schools on its website. Then the company sends recycling boxes and marketing materials to the school to help promote the effort. The school encourages parents to bring in empty toner cartridges and small electronics to fill the boxes. When they are filled, the school ships them back to Office Depot at no charge (OD pays for shipping both ways). Office Depot then issues the school a gift card for the amount of the recycled items. The school can then use it for school supplies.

Grace has two children who attend DPS and is on the Go Green Advisory Committee. “My son learned about recycling in school and came home all excited to tell us about it,” she said. “We all got involved because of his enthusiasm, and what I saw here today warms my heart.”

DPS Energy Manager, Emile Lauzzana, talked to the teachers, students and parents about how important it is to work to mitigate climate change, but to also learn to adapt to what’s coming. Instead of complaining about being in a food desert, he said, learn to grow your own food. Instead of complaining about trash – clean it up. “At the end of the day,” Lauzzana finished, “I can say, I tried. And all of you tried. And I’m proud of the work we’ve done here.”

Andrea Newell has more than ten years of experience designing, developing and writing ERP e-learning materials for large corporations in several industries. She was a consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers and a contract consultant for companies like IBM, BP, Marathon Oil, Pfizer, and Steelcase, among others. She is a writer and former editor at TriplePundit and a social media blog fellow at The Story of Stuff Project. She has contributed to In Good Company (Vault's CSR blog), Evolved Employer, The Glass Hammer, EcoLocalizer and CSRwire. She is a volunteer at the West Michigan Environmental Action Council and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You can reach her at and @anewell3p on Twitter.

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