“The Lanier community engaged in converting the school’s courtyard into an Outdoor Living Classroom; conducted energy, consumption and school grounds audits and implemented numerous environmental projects at the school.” —Science teacher Faiza Alam
When Lanier Middle School began its innovative efforts to reduce its environmental impact, improve health and wellness, and establish sustainability education, it didn’t do so to win an award. It took these actions because they were the right thing to do.
Nonetheless, the school’s efforts received national recognition; and now, Lanier has been named a 2018 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools award honoree. Nominated by the Virginia Department of Education, it’s one of 46 schools, six districts and six postsecondary institutions to garner this acclaim.
“Lanier’s ever-evolving and growing eco-journey has made this community extremely proud,” said Principal Erin Lenart. “The educators we have at the helm of the work span all subject areas and are a testament to how a community can excel when its members are given the permission and freedom to marry their passion and purpose with those Portrait of a Graduate skills we teach in Fairfax County Public Schools.”
She noted, as well, that Lanier also enjoys the benefit of the partnership between FCPS and the City of Fairfax Public Schools. Said Lenart: “Their combined, enormous investment in our programs, students and staff has allowed us to really focus our time and energy into making this award possible.”
LANIER began its efforts to reduce its environmental impact during a school renovation, which was completed in 2008. The resulting facility, funded by the City of Fairfax School Board, featured increased insulation, automatic water shut-offs, motion sensor lights, temperature controls in unoccupied areas, tinted windows with low-E glass on sunny exposures and thermally broken frames, high-efficiency lighting ballasts, and an economizer on rooftop units.
Since then, the difference has been both notable and significant. Lanier earned an Energy Star certification in 2015, and its energy-conservation program has saved the school more than $58,000 on energy costs. Now, Lanier is phasing in Green Seal cleaning products and training and certifying staff members in green-cleaning practices to further improve its indoor air quality.
As a member of the National Wildlife Federation’s (NWF) Eco-Schools USA program, the school established an eco-team of students, staff members, parents and community members to focus on environmental issues. Team members encourage energy, water and paper conservation, as well as recycling and school-grounds enhancement that considers sustainability issues. In fact, Lanier was the first school in Virginia and the third school nationally to earn the Green Flag award from Eco-Schools USA.
“In the classroom, the school encourages digital submissions of work to reduce paper waste and offers online textbooks,” said City Schools spokeswoman Carrie Dorsey. “The Lanier courtyard was converted into an Outdoor Living Classroom, now an NWF-certified, wildlife habitat that includes various ecosystems, a vernal pool, a vegetable garden and a dry-bed stream, fully maintained by the eco-team.”
All grade levels use the Outdoor Living Classroom for learning and environmental stewardship. Seventh-graders participate in a Meaningful Watershed Educational Experience, testing the water quality in a local stream and learning about topography, biodiversity and ecology. They then follow up with a school watershed walk to identify runoff, erosion and positive environmental practices. In addition, they identify areas for improvement.
“Projects have included implementing a schoolwide recycling program, donating unused cafeteria food to a local food shelter and installing a hybrid solar panel-wind turbine unit,” said Dorsey. “Environmental sustainability is also used as a focus for projects in art, Family and Consumer Sciences, physical science and the school newspaper.”
Furthermore, she said, “The school supports a number of health-and-wellness activities, including Walk to School and Bike to School days, educating students about growing and eating healthy food, [having] teams participate in fitness activities, and [implementing] initiatives to support mental health and a positive, school climate.”
All of Lanier’s eco-friendly projects and improvements were a schoolwide effort, involving all the science teachers. One of them, Faiza Alam, said how pleased she was to have been part of Lanier’s eco-journey since 2006. That’s when Lanier became the first middle school in Fairfax County to require all seventh-graders to participate in an environmental-stewardship project via all their science classes.
IT QUICKLY BECAME the model for other FCPS middle schools. Then in 2009, Lanier registered for the Eco-School program, which provides a framework to help educators integrate sustainable principles across the curriculum.
“The Lanier community engaged in converting the school’s courtyard into an Outdoor Living Classroom, conducted energy, consumption and school grounds audits and implemented numerous, environmental projects at the school,” explained Alam. “Students created bio-retention cells and rain gardens to stop erosion and runoff, installed rain barrels to conserve water, installed bottle-filling water fountains to stop the use of plastic bottles, and changed their daily life habits to better the environment.”
“It gives me immense satisfaction that I was able to take the learning outside the four walls of the classroom, where students addressed real-world problems on school grounds,” she continued. “At Lanier, we for sure are raising global, ethical citizens who are creative critical thinkers. They collaborate and communicate at local, regional and national levels and are goal-oriented individuals. As eagles, we soar.”
All in all, said Alam, “Lanier provides a wonderful, learning environment where staff members are trusted by the leadership team to explore their passion, students are engaged in project-based learning, and the parents and extended community are very supportive – a perfect recipe for real learning by doing.”