Going for green at the American School of The Hague
Looking around the American School of The Hague (ASH), there’s a lot going on. In one part, a group of Grade Six students are arranging a blind bottled/tap water tasting to highlight the environmental problems of plastic bottles.
In another, high school students are holding a conference to raise awareness of sustainability among students, teachers and parents. Then there are the Grade Four students walking from classroom to classroom turning off lights.
These are just some of the activities that are happening at ASH in its efforts to become eco-friendly.
Making ASH environmentally sustainable
Since 2010, high school teacher Jacqueline Lester has been co-ordinating a sustainability programme at the school. The programme is expected to culminate on May 27 with ASH being awarded the Eco Schools Green Flag.
Green Flag is the highest award in the Eco Schools Certification Programme, an international sustainability programme operated by the Foundation for Environmental Education and supported by UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation) and UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme).
ASH decided to join the Eco Schools Programme in 2010 as a way to integrate sustainability into the daily lives of the school’s students, staff and parents.
Getting sustainability off the ground It was a tough start. "We had a lot of negativity the first years, mostly from parents," Jacqueline explained.
To raise awareness of the issues, one day all the school’s waste was collected and about 50 students, together with teachers and parents, spent six hours separating it.
The children were shocked, mostly at seeing how much food was thrown away. This led to waste recycling by installing separate bins throughout the school for paper, plastic, food and other waste.
This was followed by projects targeting other kinds of unsustainable behaviour, including a bike-to-school competition, a "lights-out" campaign and teaching projects on water scarcity.
"Slowly but surely, more people are paying attention and doing it right," said Jacqueline. The school was successful in its May 8 audit and ASH will be awarded the Green Flag on May 27 at a celebration for the entire school.
Sustainable schools in the Netherlands
ASH is not the only school in the Netherlands working on improving sustainability, nor (should it be successful) will it be the first one to achieve the Green Flag award.
In fact, around there world there are 3.513 schools in 39 countries are engaged in Eco Schools projects.
The programme has eight pillars it requires schools to work on: energy, healthy living, transportation, water, waste, recycling, school grounds and biodiversity.
To obtain the Green Flag, over a three-year period schools must first establish a committee and a review and action plan. Then in the second year they deploy projects and embed them into the curriculum. These must then be monitored, evaluated and documented.
In the third year, more work needs to be done on informing and involving all parts of the school community, and they also need to produce an "eco code."
Then, the Green Flag audit. If the school passes, it is reviewed every one to two years to ensure it is keeping up the standard.
Managing the Eco School’s programme
A key factor in Eco Schools’ programme is a democratic and participatory approach. At ASH, Jacqueline works with a committee of students, staff and parents to manage all the various projects.
"We run 20-30 projects all year long, from kindergarten to high school. Just because you’re involved in a project doesn’t mean you want to come to every single sustainability meeting," she said.
Jacqueline’s role as sustainability co-ordinator has involved learning by trial and error, and the difficulty of convincing people to get on board. As part of giving the programme more clout, there has been a suggestion that sustainability be incorporated into the school's overall goals and visions.
Despite the difficulties, the programme has made a real difference in ASH. "I hear more and more kids saying things like 'that’s not very sustainable' or 'don’t throw that water bottle out'," said Jacqueline. "I hear it now; it has invaded everybody."