Watson Chronicle


Education Updates and Features

Faculty Present Research at Scholarship Brown Bag Event

Monday, September 01, 2014

Green  Ribbon School Logo

In recent years, many schools have cut back on exploratory learning to focus on core content areas such as mathematics, science and language arts. Watson College faculty members Scott Imig and Bill Sterrett were curious to learn more about schools bucking the trend and moving toward exploratory learning as a means of student engagement. They chose to conduct “green research,” studying schools that have been recognized by the U.S. Department of Education’s Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) award for their sustainability efforts, promoting health and wellness and encouraging outdoors education and STEM learning. 

Preliminary findings were shared at a Scholarship Brown Bag event at the college on Sept. 16.

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Education introduced the ED-GRS initiative to recognize schools and districts that “strive for 21st century excellence by highlighting exemplary practices and resources that all can apply.” To qualify for ED-GRS distinction, schools and districts must achieve in three areas, called pillars. Each school must show they have programs that:

  • Reduce environmental impact and costs,

  • Improve the health and wellness of schools, students and staff, and

  • Provide environmental education, and effectively incorporate STEM, civic skills and green career pathways.

During the first phase of research, Imig and Sterrett, with the initial help of Watson College Principal Fellow Michael MacGovern, designed and administered an online survey of 213 ED-GRS schools. The purpose of the survey was to identify various approaches schools have taken, compile sufficient data to analyze the benefits and challenges involved, and answer the basic question, “What does it take to be a Green Ribbon School?”  Sterrett and Imig also enlisted the help of Green School Initiative Director Deborah Moore in Berkeley, CA.

Seventy-five ED-GRS school leaders from across the United States, including teachers, principals and superintendents, responded to the survey. Respondents included both public and private schools in urban and rural locations. Survey results reflect programs implemented at the elementary, middle grades, high school and district levels. Follow-up research involved Sterrett and Imig visiting schools and conducting conference calls to better understand the leadership involved as well as the challenges and benefits of green efforts.

Approaches taken by ED-GRS schools vary widely. Examples provided include a high school in Ohio that has implemented a wind turbine to power the school, a school district in California that has re-engineered shipping containers from China to create sustainable building materials, and schools that have created outdoor classrooms, gardens and nature preserves. During the presentation, they shared YouTube videos of interviews completed at a number of school locations.

The vast majority of respondents reported a significant increase in community and student engagement. They also said the initiatives enhanced the quality of teaching and learning.

Imig, Sterrett and MacGovern plan to expand on the research during the 2014-15 academic year.  The initial phase of this research was made possible by a Watson Summer Research Fellowship.

The research presentation can be viewed here www.uncw.edu/ed/brownbag.

For more information on U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools, visitwww2.ed.gov/programs/green-ribbon-schools/index.html