Federal and State Education Officials Celebrate UNCW, D.C. Virgo and Wrightsville Beach Elementary for Green Initiatives

Friday, October 22, 2021

Federal and state education officials visited UNCW, D.C. Virgo Preparatory Academy and Wrightsville Beach Elementary as part of a three-day Green Strides Tour celebrating this year's Green Ribbon award winners.

Representatives of the U.S. Department of Education, North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and other dignitaries observed green initiatives at the schools on Oct. 21. The Green Strides Tour stopped in North Carolina for the first time, visiting schools in Wilmington, Fayetteville and Raleigh.

The U.S. Department of Education recognized UNCW, D.C. Virgo and Wrightsville Beach Elementary School for their innovative efforts to reduce environmental impact, utility costs, improve health and wellness, and provide effective sustainability education. In all, 40 institutions or school districts across the country were honored as Green Ribbon schools.

UNCW is one of only five colleges and universities nationwide named a 2021 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Postsecondary Sustainability Awardee. The Green Ribbon recognition is a one-time honor designed to highlight institutions that employ practices and resources that other schools could adopt.

“The Green Strides Tour is intended to highlight the value of equitable access to healthy, sustainable, resilient 21st-century learning environments and real-world sustainability learning,” said Director of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools Andrea Suarez Falken. "We are honored to have the opportunity to see the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools honorees' work in North Carolina firsthand – to observe their hands-on environmental learning and efficient, healthy school buildings and to amble through their green schoolyards, all of which bring learning alive for students."

D.C. Virgo, a year-round K-8 school operated by UNCW’s Watson College of Education, and Wrightsville Beach Elementary are among the 27 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools this year. Wrightsville Beach Elementary has a partnership with the university.

"We could not be prouder of the work that students, staff and faculty at D.C. Virgo have done to merit receiving this Green Ribbon Schools award," said Van Dempsey, dean of the Watson College of Education. "The leadership, teacher practices and students' place-based learning are the foundations to D.C. Virgo’s success in cultivating sustainability, healthy spaces and wellness reflected in this award. And the collaboration between the folks at Virgo, at UNCW and with the community has been outstanding."

D.C. Virgo's efforts include a student-led school-wide recycling program, gardening projects, energy-efficient lights, sustainability presentations, and projects with UNCW. Middle-grade teachers have partnered with UNCW's MarineQuest program to construct programs that focus on ecology, meteorology and biotechnology through the contextual lens of marine science.

"I am extremely proud of the commitment of our teachers, staff, students and partners for their leadership and shared opportunities for collective, authentic learning,” said D.C. Virgo Principal Sabrina Hill-Black.

UNCW and D.C. Virgo encompass the theme of this year's tour, "Green Strides for All: Advancing Sustainable Schools," said State Superintendent Catherine Truitt.

"D.C. Virgo's emphasis on an interdisciplinary STEM education, sustainability and environmental literacy exposes the youngest students to well-rounded, whole-child experiences," said Truitt. "Students were highly engaged and demonstrated incredible leadership as our tour guides, teaching us about their science program and answering questions."

Truitt was impressed with UNCW students, staff, faculty, and administrators' work related to storm water projects, campus-wide recycling and composting.

"Not only is UNCW's Watson College of Education remarkable, but UNCW's campus is impressive on another front as it strives to incorporate sustainable initiatives that focus on the whole student experience," said Truitt. "The applied sciences opportunities here also allow students to gain hands-on experience that can be translated into a lifelong career or used to become a more engaged citizen."

-- Venita Jenkins


UNCW and U.S. Department of Education officials posing outside for a group photo after receiving the Green Ribbon Award.

UNCW Sustainability Peer Educators and Chancellor Jose Sartarelli hold a Postsecondary Sustainability Award from the U.S. Department of Education recognizing the university as a Green Ribbon School. Also pictured are U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools Director Andrea Suarez Falken, UNCW Chief Sustainability Officer Kat Pohlman and Earth and Ocean Sciences Lecturer Roger Shew.

State Superintendent Catherine Truitt examines a pearl mushroom specimen that DC Virgo student India Williams holds during her mycology lab

D.C. Virgo student India Williams holds a pearl mushroom while State Superintendent Catherine Truitt examines  the specimen during the Green Strides Tour.