Credit: Credit: Albemarle County Public Schools

Albemarle County Public Schools One of Nine School Divisions in Nation to Earn Top Environmental Award From U.S. Department of Education

(ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Virginia) – Albemarle County Public Schools has earned the federal government’s premier environmental impact designation in the field of education. Only nine school divisions across the country received the Green Ribbon Schools District Sustainability Award, conferred by the U.S. Department of Education earlier this month. There are more than 13,000 school divisions in the United States.

In its application, the school division noted that “energy efficiency and conservation are top priorities in reducing the environmental impact of school facilities and programs on the environment.” Twenty-two of the division’s 25 school buildings, for example, are ENERGY STAR rated, meaning they are in the top 25 percent of all similar-sized buildings in the country in conserving energy.

Such measures as the use of building automation systems to monitor and control building operations around the clock, the use of solar panels and wind turbines, the installation of energy efficient heating and air conditioning equipment, and the increased use of LED lighting all have added to greater energy conservation, with significant cost implications. The division has estimated that it avoids as much as $230,000 per year in energy costs as the result of these actions.

Separately, a composting program at 10 school facilities last year avoided the need to dispose of 30 tons of food items in landfills. The division-wide recycling program includes plastics, cardboard, aluminum, electronic waste, rechargeable and alkaline batteries, fluorescent bulbs, CDs, diskettes, and cords. Diverting construction and demolition debris allowed the school division to reduce landfill tipping fees by nearly $15 per ton.

“As impressive as these numbers are, even more impactful over the long term are our connections between sound and effective cost and environmental management practices and our curriculum in the classroom,” said Dean Tistadt, the school division’s chief operating officer. He noted that several schools have student-tended gardens that produce fresh vegetables, many have outdoor learning classrooms, and several of the solar energy panel projects at schools generate real-time data for science classes.

Among the school division’s most popular high school programs, Tistadt said, is the Environmental Studies Academy at Western Albemarle High School. Division-wide, all fourth-graders attend a nature preservation camp coordinated by the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District. Students can take an Environmental Art class and an English class on Environmental Law & Policy, and the division is in the process of developing a dual class in Biology and the Environment that focuses on data collection and experimentation.

Two of the division’s elementary schools, Crozet and Stony Point, have been recognized by the federal government as Green Ribbon Schools. In 2016, the division was selected by the Virginia School Boards Association as the first-place winner of its Green Schools Challenge. This past year, the U.S. Green Building Council’s Center for Green Schools chose Albemarle County Public Schools as one of five school divisions in the nation to receive a year-long scholarship. The scholarship includes professional development, technical resources, and free access to Learning Lab, an online education platform featuring a hands-on curriculum and resources that support innovative classroom projects and connect students with scientists around the world.

“Each of these accomplishments is a tribute to the outstanding members of our environmental stewardship team, from our principals, teachers, and classified staff, to all of our departments and especially to our students. Every day they display tremendous curiosity and eagerness in caring for the world around them,” Tistadt said. “That’s why these programs are so important to meeting our goal of preparing graduates to be successful lifelong learners, workers and citizens,” he added.