Mary Legoria’s job as a teacher doesn’t end when the bell rings, and never stops at the designated reading, writing and math lessons.
It doesn’t even stop with science, technology, engineering and art.
In every lesson she and her colleagues at Westdale Heights Academic Magnet teach, they try to incorporate all those elements, while at the same time showing their students the bigger picture of the world around them.
That, Legoria said, involves many projects that put her students in touch with the outdoors, including a school garden that grows milkweed, which students use to feed the Monarch butterflies they raise and tag before releasing them to migrate, and some vegetables that can be used in the cafeteria.
Students also began recycling and composting programs that resulted in the diversion of 60 percent of the school’s food waste and trash from landfills.
In fact, Legoria said, when the waste company used by the school district no longer recycled for free, the students held fundraisers to buy bins to continue their green classrooms recycling program — raising nearly $800 — and the school pitched in the rest.
Students are part of the Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology birdwatching program — they installed a feeder on campus and catalog what they see in the online database at www.feederwatch.org — and occasionally come across a hurt or orphaned animal that is brought to Legoria’s mini-rehabilitation center.
“When it’s an animal we can’t help, we call in the rehabilitators we know,” Legoria said. The school often invites wildlife rehabilitation specialists to speak to students and bring animal ambassadors.
The whole process puts her students in touch with the ways wildlife and humans occupy the same spaces, and the consequences that can have on both.
In addition to all those programs, teachers regularly plan classes in an outdoor setting, including the garden and pond. The school makes physical education a regular part of the curriculum and teaches healthy eating and living.
this commitment led the school to applying for — and winning — among the first Green Ribbon School designations in the state of Louisiana, said Brian Gautreau, who coordinates the Louisiana Green Schools Program, a partnership of the Louisiana Department of Education and the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
It, along with Baton Rouge High Magnet, Hammond Junior High Magnet, Benjamin Franklin High School in New Orleans and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, won the designation, and are nominees in the national competition, Gautreau said.
While the national Green Ribbon Program has been in place since 2011, he said, with the first Green Ribbons being awarded in 2012, this is the first year for the program in Louisiana.
Westdale Heights, as did many other schools, started their programs with grants from the Louisiana Environmental Education Commission, Legoria said, which is where Gautreau found his candidates for the Green Ribbon program.
Other schools, including Benjamin Franklin, came to the program’s attention through U.S. Green Building Council’s Green Schools Challenge.
Schools who win the designation focus on four areas, Legoria said: a toxin-free environment; sustainable use of resources; creation of a green and healthy space, which includes physical health; and incorporating education about environmental issues in the curriculum.
Both Baton Rouge winners excelled at education about greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption and trash, Gautreau said. Baton Rouge High’s recent renovations, and the commensurate upgrades in technology, led to a 60 percent reduction in energy use, which was not a direct result of student involvement, he said, “but students were extremely involved in the recycling program there, which collected 45,000 pounds of recycled trash last year.”
The waste management changes that affected Westdale Heights’ recycling program also applied to Baton Rouge High, so students raised funds to pay for that, as well, in the most meta way possible: They sold what became very popular jewelry made from reclaimed aluminum can tabs.
The student body also was instrumental in the installation of vending machines with healthy snack and beverage choices, Gautreau said, a change that has appealed to students and faculty there, and addressed another pillar of the competition: healthy living and eating.
“When we went to visit, the healthy machines were cleaned out,” he said. Westdale Heights addressed this pillar with their gardening program, as well.
None of it would be possible without dedicated teachers leading at all the green schools, he said. “Mary Legoria is a force of nature,” he said, though Legoria points out that the students have taken the projects and run with them.
Green School Grants are now available, according to a news release from the program, supporting, “projects designed to reduce a school’s environmental impact, reduce health disparities that can aggravate achievement gaps, and engage students in hands-on learning. Proposals to be considered are those that align with pillars found in the U.S. Department of Education’s Green Ribbon Schools Program.”
For more information on the program, visit www.wlf.louisiana.gov/green-schools-pillars-and-elements. All accredited Louisiana kindergarten to 12th-grade schools are eligible.