MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Here in the D.C. region we have an internationally acclaimed bastion of design, the National Building Museum, which is featuring a new exhibit about design and eco-friendliness in our schools. Lauren Landau swung by the exhibit and by a D.C. school that's working to get students to go green.
MS. LAUREN LANDAU
Imagine an apartment building equipped for all needs, tastes and budgets.
MR. DAVID HILMY
Accommodation free on a first-come first-served basis, extended family, occupation encouraged, utilities included, located amidst one acre of private gardens with a gated entry and a garden penthouse on the roof.
If that sounds like a sweet set up, don't bother calling your real estate agent, unless you have six legs. That was physical education teacher David Hilmy describing the digs at the bug motel on the farm at Walker-Jones Education Campus, a preschool through grade eighth school in northwest. The farm is divided up into five fields, which are cared for by different grade levels.
Everything on the farm, the kids are involved with. And instead of me having just one club, as it were, I have about 12 or 13 different student groups that I rotate through and they have different responsibilities on the farm.
Field 1, for example, belongs to the kindergartners and first graders who grow potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers. Students learn about scientific classifications, organic farming and how different insects, such as the farm's honeybees can lend a helping wing. But the farm serves another important purpose.
We're kind of in a very ultra-urban, inner-city environment. About 95 percent of our kids are free/reduced school lunch kids. Obviously a Title I school.
Hilmy says the farm's primary purpose is to grow food, which the kids take home to help feed their families. There's even a kitchen lab where students learn how to cook the food. And the kids aren't the only ones reaping the benefits from the seeds they've sown. People from the local neighborhood can also enjoy the farm's fresh produce.
So we have some older people living across the street. They'll come over with a plastic bag. They'll do a little bit of work for, you know, 10 or 15 minutes to have a bunch of collard greens or chard and they're happy with that.
In addition to the farm, the LEED Silver-certified school also boasts a 27,000 square foot green roof. But as Hilmy explains, design is just the first step in creating a truly green school.
What really is required is some training and education. For example, with the green roof there was no maintenance contract put in place. No one was trained to maintain it. The roof failed.
Walker-Jones is featured in the new Green Schools exhibit at the National Building Museum. Curator Sarah Leavitt says that for many of these schools going green isn't the challenge, it's staying green.
MS. SARAH LEAVITT
When we talk to one of the architects that came to speak with us about what he does in terms of his green practice at his firm, he said, you know, we build this beautiful green school and then the day it opens everybody comes in and they use their same toxic chemicals and they are shading our beautiful daylighting windows and the day-to-day green is not really there.
Leavitt says this is a topic that touches many Americans, even if they don't realize it.
Twenty percent of our population spends their day in a K-12 classroom. That's a lot of people. That's 60 million people every day. It's something that we can all relate to as community members, as parents, a concern that we all should have if we don't.
So what kind of problems are schools dealing with?
Toxic cleaning chemicals, that's certainly one. One of them is the ribbon windows that are the narrow windows that don't open that don't allow a lot of daylight into the room. They don't allow the teachers to regulate the temperature in the room. One that we've seen, of course, in the last maybe 30 years is asbestos in the classroom.
The projects featured in the Green Schools exhibit range from composting programs to solar panels and green building materials to a school in Hawaii that actually has a river running through it. More than 40 schools are featured, including 10 in our region.
It would be wonderful if people left the exhibition thinking about what they could do in their own communities and their own schools and really encourage those programs and really see the difference that this kind of thing can make for all of our kids.
D.C. resident Olivia Borland and her daughter Layla visited the exhibit on opening day. Layla is only 10 years old, but she will ultimately pursue her education at either Woodrow Wilson high school or School Without Walls senior high school. The latter of which is included in the Green Schools exhibit.
MS. LAYLA BORLAND
It was very interesting to see that School Without Walls was taking an initiative on being green. So let's say I go to School Without Walls, they probably have a lot of green projects, planting trees and all that stuff after school. So being part of one of those projects would be fun.
Sarah Leavitt says that the push for green schools often comes from the students themselves. And that a lot of these programs empower kids to think about what comes next. Back at Walker-Jones Education Campus David Hilmy is also looking toward the future.
What will the world look like tomorrow or even in 50 years? We have no clue. We don't know how businesses will operate. We don't know how governments will operate. The one thing that is true is that we will still be in a threatened environment. And so for me, green living, or green education, that should be a habitual, normal part of living.
Hilmy says he wants to teach his students how to care for the environment just as he coaches them on how to take care of their bodies in gym class. Both are personal responsibilities he hopes they will carry into adulthood. I'm Lauren Landau.
The National Building Museum's Green Schools exhibit runs through next January. You can learn more about it and watch a video featuring some of our local green schools on our website, metroconnection.org.
Up next, a designer and activist whose legacy will never go out of fashion.
MR. TAZEWELL THOMPSON
So imagine she is a former slave who bought her own freedom and made these clothes for some of the city's most prominent women. Extraordinary.
That and more is coming your way on "Metro Connection," on WAMU 88.5.
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