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Watson College News

D.C. Virgo, UNCW and Wrightsville Beach Named U.S. Department of Ed Green Ribbon Schools

Monday, May 10, 2021

In April, D.C. Virgo Preparatory Academy was recognized as a 2021 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School for their innovative efforts to reduce environmental impact and utility costs, improve health and wellness, and provide effective environmental and sustainability education. UNCW and Wrightsville Beach Elementary School, a community partner, also are among 40 U.S. schools, districts, and postsecondary institutions recognized this year.  

Bill Sterrett, Associate Dean of Teacher Education and Outreach at the Watson College has engaged in U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) research since 2014. He is a strong champion of environmental education and sustainability initiatives at D.C. Virgo, and a leader in recent collaborative efforts involving Virgo, UNCW’s Sustainability Office and Wrightsville Beach Elementary, a Watson College PDS partnership school.

"Environmental and sustainable initiatives provide a wonderful opportunity for schools, districts and universities to work together to leverage collaborative expertise and energy on critically important topics such as health and wellness, STEM and outdoors education, and stewardship of resources," Sterrett said. “It’s encouraging to see these green efforts underway at D.C. Virgo, UNCW and Wrightsville Beach and we’re excited to be a part of this prestigious national recognition.”

At D.C. Virgo, restorative practices are incorporated throughout the school. All classrooms participate in daily morning meetings that include mindfulness, and DCVPA Social Worker Amy Horgan works with teachers to utilize a restorative room where students can “take ten” to calm down, process elevated emotions, and return to the classroom ready to learn. Other initiatives include:

  • Dr. Laura Jennings, DCVPA’s assistant principal, works collaboratively with the Watson College of Education and UNCW Sustainability to teach sixth, seventh and eighth grade students gardening basics. Students are learning how to grow plants from seeds using a greenhouse and grow lights.
  • UNCW Sustainability Peer Educators provide students with weekly presentations on sustainability topics including how plants affect air quality, the importance of water and ways to recycle at home. This hands-on project allows the students to be actively engaged in growing plants from seed to garden to table. A UNCW Sustainability Peer Educator distributed ‘plant packages’ containing the necessary materials to watch the beginning stages of the plant growth progress at home during the pandemic. 
  • UNCW doctoral student Sohail Sukhera and middle grades teacher Kemeka Sidbury have introduced mycology lab lessons and worked with middle grades students and community volunteers and to revamp Virgo’s outdoors learning garden.
  • Operations coordinator Jodi Hebert helped coordinate a partnership initiative that provided all families with computers; in the midst of the pandemic UNCW Masters' of Instructional Technology (MIT) students were paired with DCVPA teachers to provide instructional strategies and support. 

“We are honored and delighted to extend opportunities for student learning while enriching the curriculum,” said D.C. Virgo Principal Sabrina Hill-Black. “As we continue to promote the three pillars of reducing environmental impacts, improving health and wellness, and offering effective environmental and sustainability education, we hope to leave a lasting impression on students as they continue to explore, experiment and ultimately have a measurable impact on their school-community environment.”  

Sterrett said the environmental education, sustainability initiatives and university-school partnerships promote interdisciplinary learning and student engagement, and the Watson College hopes to build on this work in the future.

"Seeking the ED-GRS IHE designation provided a great opportunity to develop synergy between DC Virgo, the university, and one of our partnership schools, Wrightsville Beach Elementary,” Sterrett said. “We hope to collaborate with more schools in the future. In many cases, faculty and staff are already engaged in this work, and ultimately the students, whether in elementary grades or at the university level, benefit from this work."

UNCW announced the news in a home page story on April 23: UNCW, D.C. Virgo Preparatory Academy and Wrightsville Beach Elementary Named U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools

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