Not all parents are on board with public school, choosing instead to homeschool or send their child to an alternative school. Still, the vast majority of kids in the United States do attend public school. To give you a rough idea, about 49.4 million students signed up to attend public elementary and secondary schools in fall of 2011. Compare that to the 6 million students in private school and it's clear that public education is the overwhelming choice for most families. This means that we, as a nation, need to pay special attention to public schools, making sure they're as healthy as possible and that they offer environmentally themed curriculum, because frankly, the public school system is shaping most of the next generation.
Aren’t Most Public Schools Safe and Healthy for Kids?
In a word, no. Public schools lose big when it comes to scoring a green report card. A recent special toxic school report by CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta showed that as many as 55 million U.S. children may attend public K-12 schools where poor air quality, hazardous chemicals and other unhealthy conditions are common. The same report shows that the U.S. EPA estimates that at least half of all schools in this country have indoor air quality problems caused by toxic chemical and pesticide use, chemical spills, mold infestations, asbestos, radon, lead in paint and drinking water, heavy metals and persistent toxics, such as mercury, CCA and PCBs. Not only that, but public school kids must contend with icky pink slime meat in school lunches. Public schools have cut recess, free play and physical education programs in staggering amounts – all in favor of higher test scores. On top of everything else, many public schools totally fail to incorporate environmental education into the curriculum. To sum up, if you’re looking for a safe, healthy and green public school for your child, you’ve got your work cut out for you.
What is a Green & Healthy School?
While the general state of the public school system is not green or healthy, there are better public schools to be found. Many organizations are working hard to inform schools and parents about the health and safety issues connected to toxic schools and attempting to change the system. The Green Schools Initiative is one such organization. The Green Schools Initiative uses an easy to understand “Four Pillars” framework to show what makes a green and healthy school. The four pillars include the following:
- A school that is toxin-free.
- A school that uses sustainable resources responsibly.
- A school with healthy and green spaces.
- A school that engages children in eco-friendly education.
Where to Find Greener Public Schools
Right now, with so few green and healthy public schools in this country, you’ll have to do some decent research to find a school. You can do a search by state and city at green school profiles, but not all states feature schools. Green Ribbon Schools offers a hard to search, but still worth it list of greener schools, with ratings too. You may be able to search for a school by locating your own state’s green school organization. Not all states have one, but many do. For example Oregon Green Schools lists more than 200 schools on their interactive map. If you do a Google search for, “[insert your state or city] green schools” you may find your own local organization. If you can’t locate a nearby school, try taking the Green Schools Report Card Quiz to get a quick snapshot of what the green situation is at your local schools. Healthy Schools also has a good list of what to look for in a healthy school which can be cross checked with local schools. Lastly, if you’re looking for a green educational environment for your youngest children, see our non-toxic daycare guide.
Be sure to visit schools in person too so you can see the school first hand and talk to administrators there – that’s usually the only way to learn about green curriculum in place, or the lack of one. If you’re on the hunt for a healthy and green school there are problems you may run into. For example, you may not be able to find a healthy or green public school in your district or for that matter, in your city at all. If you can’t find a greener school, or you’re out of district, you still have some options though, which we’ll talk about more below.
What if an Awesome Green School is Out of District?
Of course in a perfect world, you’d pick your neighborhood wisely, before having kids, thus ensuring the best pubic school possible. Now, as we shoot back to the real world, here are some other ways you can get into an out of district school. You can move obviously, but really make sure you love the school first as moving is costly and a pain. Most districts have out-0f-district transfers available for students, but rules about this vary by district or city. For example, in Portland, where I live, district transfers work via a cycle and centralized lottery system and transfer space is extremely limited. Other districts have different transfer rules. Visit your city’s public education department to learn more – simply search for “city name” public schools. One last thing, before you lie about your address to get a transfer to a better school, that some people have been arrested for doing so – which is entirely lame, but true.
What if There are Zero Green Schools in Your Area?
If you look and look and can’t find a decent healthy and green public school, you may need to expand your search to include charter schools or private schools. If you’re set on public school, a second choice is to green the school you’re in. Now, research shows that Americans say they want greener schools. However, to have a greener and healthier school, you’re going to have to be willing to work hard. Schools face many challenges, from low budgets to over population to lackluster council boards and more. To really change a school will take drive and more than just you. Get some other like-minded parents together and really discuss what you want to happen at your school. Then dig into our guide about how to improve and change toxic schools to learn about how to create real change from the inside out. It’s very hard work to change a school for the better, but worth it. Remember your kids spend 13,680 hours in school during their early years – shouldn’t those years be healthy?
Resources for Green & Healthy Public Schools
To learn more about green and healthy schools, visit the links below:
- Green supplies for healthy schools
- Inspiring educational programs for schools
- How to green audit your school grounds
- Best green supplies for back to school time
- How to reduce waste at your school
- Eco-curriculum and resources for K-12 students and teachers
- Green Schools Checklist: Environmental Actions for Schools to Consider (pdf)
- How to build healthy schools
- Non-toxic school supply list
- Ways to green your school for Earth Day
Lead Image by Flickr User JAXPORT