Detroit Public Schools Students Go Green and Save $130,000

Mann Elementary School students attended the Go Green Challenge end of year awards ceremony, which drew over 400 audience members.

By Alessandra Carreon, AmeriCorps Green Schools Coordinator for the WARM Training Center D-YES Program

Detroit Public Schools (DPS) launched the district’s first-ever Go Green Challenge in October 2012 as a starting point for implementation of its Sustainability Management Plan.

The goals of the DPS Go Green Challenge are closely aligned with the DPS Strategic Plan: 1) Educate students about energy and sustainability, 2) Protect and enhance the environment, and 3) Reduce energy costs. On May 15, 2013–six months and nearly $130,000 in energy savings later–thirty-four DPS schools celebrated the close of the first year of this inaugural program at the DPS Go Green Awards Ceremony at Cass Technical High School.

DPS and WARM Training Center jointly developed the DPS Go Green Challenge. WARM is a Detroit non-profit that has been providing energy-saving programs across the public and private sectors in Southeast Michigan for more than 30 years. Detroit students are active in energy conservation efforts through WARM’s Detroit Youth Energy Squad (D-YES) program.

During the DPS Go Green Awards ceremony, DPS and WARM both stressed the important role of the DPS Go Green Challenge. Emile Lauzzana, DPS Energy Manager, explains, “Initially, we thought we might get 10-15 schools to volunteer for the DPS Go Green Challenge. We were delighted when over 50 schools signed up, and ecstatic that 34 participated for the entire school year. That’s over 1,000 students and teachers engaged in energy-saving projects and other green initiatives in their schools. The demand for more opportunities to engage in sustainability is clear and we are extremely pleased with the participation and momentum headed into next school year.”

“A decade from now, we are confident that students who participated in hands-on sustainability projects, honed their communication and teamwork skills, served their communities, and gained experience in the green economy will become the next generation of green leaders,” said Bob Chapman, Executive Director of WARM Training Center. “When given support and opportunities through D-YES and the DPS Go Green Challenge, their potential to foster healthy, sustainable, and resilient communities is almost limitless.”

Bennett Bioneers present their school-wide sustainability initiatives.

Ten AmeriCorps Green School Coordinators supported the completion of 116 Go Green Challenge projects over the 2012-2013 school year, achieving truly inspiring results:

  • Green teams found 1,353 incandescent light bulbs for replacement with efficient compact fluorescent lights (CFLs)
  • 27 schools formed student energy monitor teams who shut off lights, computers, and unused items
  • 22 schools representing 12,000 students elected to participate in the DPS Pilot Recycling Program

The AmeriCorps Green Schools Coordinators represent a talented pool of professionals with such diverse backgrounds as engineering, architecture, education, Peace Corps, corporate management, and more. The skills and passion for sustainability these green schools coordinators bring to the program have inspired students and staff across DPS to embrace a more sustainable Detroit. Chrisdalyia Howard, a high school student from East English Village Preparatory Academy, shared that her Green Schools Coordinators “opened up a new world of going green” to her, while teachers have stated that some green schools coordinators are officially “like family” due to their dedication to and support of schools.

Six different energy-saving and sustainability-related projects were issued for completion by participating green teams through the program. Schools representing all grade levels were challenged to reduce their energy use by 10 percent. During the DPS Go Green Awards celebration, green teams presented highlights from successful energy-saving projects throughout the school year. The awards were based on total electricity use reduction over the Challenge period, as electricity use can more accurately be linked to energy saving actions that lead to overall energy use reduction of other commodities such as natural gas or steam. Some schools exceeded a 20 percent electricity use reduction, like Davison Elementary Middle School–the top energy-saving middle school–which reduced its electricity use over a comparable six-month period from 2011-2012 by nearly 27 percent. Awards ranged from $75 for basic participation to $2,400 for the top energy-saving high school, Cass Technical High School. The top energy-saving elementary school was Oakman Orthopedic Elementary School.

The collective electricity savings from participating DPS Go Green Challenge schools exceeds $130,000 when compared to the same six-month period in 2012. During the awards ceremony, schools received awards totaling $20,925 for successful participation in the DPS Go Green Challenge.

Roy Roberts poses with Pasteur Elementary’s Green Team.

“Energy costs are a big part of every school district’s budget, sometimes costing more than computers and textbooks combined,” said Roy Roberts, Emergency Manager for Detroit Public Schools. “In a district with a deficit, every single dollar counts. This is yet another positive initiative that allows us to drive resources to where they really belong – in the classroom, helping our children succeed academically.”

At the awards ceremony, students from Pasteur Elementary School shared that the success of the challenge was achieved through unwavering support and active behavior change. AmeriCorps Green Schools Coordinators, Gary A. Williams and Paul Goldsmith, praised Pasteur Elementary School’s commitment to the Challenge. “Students dared to brave the boiler room on a tour that took fifth graders deep into the bowels of their building. The school facility manager led an outstanding tour of his often-invisible, but invaluable daily work. Students participated in the Go Green poster contest, and got active in reuse and recycling. They are one of the schools that submitted every single Go Green Challenge project.” The combined impact of education towards energy use reduction and the network of champions for the Go Green Challenge across Detroit fostered widespread adoption and success.

Nearly 400 attendees celebrated together at the May 15 awards ceremony. Posters prepared by DPS Go Green Challenge green teams were on display to showcase what students learned from the Challenge, and what sustainability means to them. Dinner was served and entertainment included performances such as a cheer from Detroit Lion’ Academy’s green cheer team and the Cass Tech Jazz Band. Dignitaries at the awards ceremony included: Roy Roberts, Emergency Manager for Detroit Public Schools; Bob Chapman, Executive Director of WARM Training Center; Akoco Grace and Karen O’Keefe, Office Depot; Rose Boddy, Hatteras Printing; Sumer Friedrichs, Team Detroit; Rachel Klegon, Green Living Science; and DPS students, teachers, parents, staff and Go Green program administrators.

The Maybury Prowlers demonstrate community engagement by including parents in sustainability activities at school.

The DPS Go Green Challenge was never designed to stop at school walls — it has successfully engaged parents and the community in “Going Green.” More than 120 parents attended Energy Saving workshops throughout the school year to learn how they could cut down on and more carefully read their energy bills at home. Go Green Challenge projects and D-YES after-school program sessions also engaged students in community change.

The true impact of the DPS Go Green Challenge is palpable in the overall spirit of Detroit. Sustainability was perceived by awards ceremony presenters and participants as the path forward towards a greener, more community-oriented city. Juan Carlos Gutierrez, a student at Western International High School, said a few words with fellow members of the Green Machines green team to demonstrate how sustainability is transforming Detroit:

Not only did we beautify the community [through a Go Green Challenge and D-YES park restoration project] but we involved the community as a whole. Our most recent project, flower bombing–where we took balls of clay filled with compost, soil and wildflower seeds, which were thrown into empty lots–not only helped improve the physical appearance of vacant lots around southwest Detroit, but involved the community. We were able to lay down the seeds of change that will be needed in the future to not only change Detroit as a whole, but the whole world in an effort to better mankind.

Detroit Public Schools students are receiving the kind of education that forms green leaders–the type of leader our society will need to weather climate change impacts and threatening natural resource depletion. The Go Green Challenge empowers and celebrates one of the city’s strongest, most precious resources–its youth–to actively shape a more sustainable future for all.

[images courtesy of DPS]

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