Award Honors Schools, Districts, and Postsecondary Institutions for Reducing Environmental Impact and Costs, Improving Health and Wellness, Offering Effective Sustainability Education
The U.S. Department of Education today released the names of the 2023 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools, District Sustainability Awardees, and Postsecondary Sustainability Awardees. One school and one district from Illinois are among the 2023 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS).
We’re excited to partner with ISBE to support Illinois schools in this program,” said Katie Kaluzny, Associate Director at Illinois Green Alliance. “We need green schools to support our healthy buildings, a better learning environment, and build climate and sustainability stewardship in the next generation.”
Huntley Community School District 158 (Algonquin, IL) and Prairie Trails School (Mount Prospect, IL) were nominated by the Illinois State Board of Education and Illinois Green Alliance.
Across the country, 26 schools, 11 districts, and four postsecondary institutions are being honored for their innovative efforts to reduce environmental impact and utility costs, improve health and wellness, and ensure effective sustainability education. The honorees were named from a pool of candidates nominated by 18 states. Notably, two-thirds of this year’s honorees are located in disadvantaged communities.
Prairie Trails School
- Location: Mount Prospect, Illinois
- District: River Trails School District 26
- Type and School Level: Public; Early Learning
- Demographic: 35% minority
- Enrollment: 181 students
Prairie Trails School serves the preschool and kindergarten students in River Trails School District 26. In 2021, major renovations were completed at Prairie Trails, making it a net-zero energy renovated school that also meets the Passiv Haus International US+ Source Zero standard. The building’s solar panels offset 100% of the school’s electricity needs. The building features an innovative variable refrigerant flow system of heating and cooling, which saves energy and ensures comfortable and conducive learning conditions. The renovation also included layered insulation to the building’s walls, LED lighting, low-flow toilets, and permeable pavers in the parking lot.
The school emphasizes materials resource conservation, with strategies that include using compostable trays in the school lunch program and composting kitchen food scraps. A multipurpose room, used for physical education and lunch, features skylights that allow natural light and soundproofing panels. An innovative feature is the natural playground, built using displaced soil from the renovation projects, that promotes cognitive, emotional, and physical growth while supporting an integrated curriculum and provides teachers with an outdoor teaching environment that includes several quiet and comfortable areas.
The school has a green cleaning policy and uses only Green Seal products. The kindergarten curriculum includes important STEAM units, where students learn about plants, animals, and weather and how they impact the world. The Prairie Trails School site serves as a learning hub for environment and sustainability for the school district’s older students. Not only does Prairie Trails School educate young students in the conventional sense, but it also educates the larger community about how buildings can meet net-zero objectives.
Huntley Community School District 158
- Location: Algonquin, Illinois
- Type and School Level: Public; Early Learning, Elementary, Middle, High
- Enrollment: 8,548 students
The vision of sustainability and environmental awareness that has come to define Huntley Community School District 158 (Huntley 158) began nearly 14 years ago. The district prioritizes energy efficiency, which has led to an annual reduction in energy costs by more than half. Huntley 158 manages demand control ventilation, temperature, and air pressure and modulates energy consumption in relation to occupancy load across buildings.
In fall 2020, Huntley 158 “flipped the switch” on the largest solar energy installation on school district property in Illinois. The project now produces clean, renewable energy to fuel all district buildings. Huntley 158 installed interactive solar kiosks in each building, which allows every student, staff member, and community member to digitally interact with the district’s solar initiative and learn about their impact. Huntley 158 is electrifying its transportation fleet by acquiring four all-electric buses and plug-in hybrid minivans and by installing electric vehicle infrastructure fueled by the solar array. Within the food services department, Huntley 158 has implemented food-sharing tables, recycling and liquid waste sorting stations, bulk condiment stations, and reusable trays and has eliminated milk straws.
Students and staff receive lessons and professional development that focus on tools to regulate behavioral and emotional wellness. Students in grades K-12 participate in diverse curriculum offerings that are based on ecology, socio-political knowledge, environmental issues, problem-solving skills, environmentally responsible behaviors, and hands-on experiences. These topics are addressed through interdisciplinary STEM curriculum at the elementary level, Project Lead the Way courses in middle school, and engineering and global academies and AP Environmental Science in high school, while students in the 18-22 transition program use a tower garden to grow fresh, nutrient-rich foods. Students across grade levels have engaged in service projects that facilitate tree planting in the community, fundraised for clean water in Uganda, and established beneficial new practices through recycling and ecology clubs.