The Newgrange Organization, including The Newgrange School in Hamilton and the Laurel School of Princeton has joined Eco-Schools USA, a partnership between National Wildlife Federation and New Jersey Audubon. Newgrange is the latest to join what has become a growing movement here in Mercer County with 28 Eco-Schools registered in the county. Eco‐Schools USA is a nationwide program that engages Pre K‐12 school students, faculty, administrators and community volunteers in a comprehensive, environment‐based program to improve student environmental literacy and skills. Eco-Schools, is based on the work of student-driven teams dedicated to issues like recycling and energy conservation and claims more than 4,300 schools in the nation with more than 200 schools throughout New Jersey.
With a history of promoting environmental awareness and education in their schools, joining Eco-Schools USA was a natural decision for The Newgrange Organization. The Laurel School already has a summer program entitled Planet Protectors that focuses on engineering solutions to environmental issues and The Newgrange School proudly sent a contingent of students to the 2nd Annual Rider University Sustainability Conference for High School this past fall after the students performed an energy audit of the school to discuss at the conference.
Allison Mulch, Eco-Schools coordinator, New Jersey Audubon presented at the Rider conference that Newgrange attended. “The Newgrange School already demonstrates many of the qualities we like to cultivate in an Eco-School. By making environmental awareness an intrinsic part of the school culture and encouraging hands-on learning, Eco-Schools helps to foster a love for learning and a sense of responsibility in the students. This is something the Newgrange Organization clearly embraces,” says Ms. Mulch.
Mulch, through NJ Audubon, offers free trainings for teachers, administrators and school board members throughout the state. These benefits are unique to Eco-Schools in New Jersey thanks to a partnership with the PSEG Foundation, which provides support through grant money and volunteerism. All participating Eco-Schools also have access to free resources that tie in with existing curriculum through the Eco-Schools USA website along with opportunities to connect with and learn from other participants. This is one of the aspects of the program that attracted Newgrange to the program.
“Eco-Schools connects us to a wider community of like- minded schools and allows us to share best practices” says Dr. Lorraine McKay, earth sciences teacher at the Newgrange School. “It is an opportunity engage our students in authentic experiences to further their understanding and environmental accountability. I think students are most excited about things that directly touch their lives and communities. If the students can point to exactly how they are having an impact, they are much more engaged.”
The Newgrange School and The Laurel School of Princeton offer plenty of opportunities to keep the students engaged in environmental learning. Newgrange School has an extensive unit in the curriculum on sustainability and offers a High School Transitions class that focuses on good environmental citizenship and green careers. The Laurel School plans to establish a school garden in the near future.
Initiatives, like these, help schools progress through the Eco-Schools program. Schools select from ten environmental focus areas or pathways to work on such as energy efficiency, biodiversity, and sustainable foods and engage students in hands on learning while they work to improve their environmental impact. In addition to direct environmental benefits, the program helps to dramatically improve student skills in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). It is also a proven framework for promoting youth leadership and community service. Schools can earn awards for their successes; Bronze, Silver, and the nationally recognized Green Flag Award. There are eight Green Flag schools in New Jersey.
Eco-Schools is an international program hosted by the NWF in the U.S., and coordinated by New Jersey Audubon in NJ. The program serves over 4,300 schools throughout the country. Eco-Schools USA in New Jersey supports and directly aligns with Sustainable Jersey for Schools point-based system. The Eco-Schools USA website has an interactive map that shows locations and distribution of participating schools. For more information: http://www.njaudubon.org/SectionEducation/ProvidingfortheEducationCommunity/NWFEco-SchoolsUSA.aspx
About National Wildlife Federation: National Wildlife Federation is America’s largest conservation organization inspiring people to protect wildlife for our children’s future. NWF focuses its education and policy work on connecting children to nature for a nation of happier, healthier kids. NWF’s state affiliate is NJ Audubon. For more information: www.nwf.org.
About NJ Audubon: New Jersey Audubon is a privately supported, not-for profit, statewide membership organization that fosters environmental awareness and a conservation ethic among New Jersey’s citizens; protects New Jersey’s birds, mammals, other animals, and plants, especially endangered and threatened species; and promotes preservation of New Jersey’s valuable natural habitats. For more information: www.njaudubon.org.