HISD Plans to Integrate Sustainability in New Schools

First-graders Isai Rogel, left, and Fatima Carranza prepare to recycle materials from their class at Lewis Elementary school.

Imagine a school building that can be used as a teaching tool. Or a campus with roof-top gardens, energy-saving lighting and a curriculum designed not only to help students learn, but to encourage them to be better stewards of the environment.

Through a partnership with The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) under NWF’s Eco-Schools USA program, HISD hopes to make this vision a vital part of the $1.89 billion 2012 bond that will replace or rebuild 40 schools across the city.

“We have developed an action plan for change,” National Wildlife Federation Senior Education Manager Marya Fowler said. “Our program helps children reinforce science skills and helps create good leaders out of students.”

The partnership comes as the district begins the planning and design of the first group of schools in the 2012 bond program approved by voters last November. The NWF provides curriculum teaching the importance of sustainable schools, and the USGBC provides professionals who conduct energy audits on each campus.

Free recycling bins available to HISD schools

To date, the Eco-Schools program is used in 25 HISD campuses, and 30 schools will be added in the fall depending on funding from outside resources.

The Eco-Schools program is designed to help teachers meet state-required learning objectives by making student learning more hands-on and relevant to their lives.

“Students realize they are in a position to make a significant change on their campuses,” Fowler said. “Many of them share what they learn in their communities and homes.”

Changes are already visible at HISD’s Lewis Elementary where parking spots are reserved for “low-emitting and fuel-efficient vehicles.” Under the district’s 2007 bond program, Lewis has incorporated sustainability into the curriculum, Lewis PE teacher Tracie Briner said.

See more photos from Lewis Elementary

Each class contributes to the school’s recycling bins located next to a touchscreen kiosk that permits students to see an interactive explanation of the recycling process and its benefits.

“The students are more aware of what recycling is and how it works,” Briner said. “It’s good for them to see and have different modalities to learn.”

After Lewis opened in October 2011, Briner tracked the amount of recycled products from each class, encouraging students to take responsibility for their environment.

“As a society we’re working toward being more environmentally responsible,” Briner said. “The students learn more when they feel like they have a sense of personal ownership.”

Energy consultant Nathan Bailey has worked with HISD for more than 15 years to maximize the district’s efficiency and create an energy management policy. He assists with energy assessments on facilities resulting in savings of 10 to 30 percent energy consumption.

Bailey said architects planning schools for the 2012 bond program should ensure building systems work together for efficient, cost-saving operations.

“You can design a building to be efficient, but if you don’t operate the building effectively, it won’t be sufficient,” said Bailey, a member of the district’s 21st Century Schools Advisory Committee.

Architects and engineers shouldn’t create schools based solely on looks and energy savings, but should accommodate the future needs of students, he said.

“When the district looks at architects, they need to ask them, ‘Will you build a school that replaces this one that 40 years from now will be a solid, energy-efficient structure where everyone enjoys learning, teaching and growing?’” Bailey said.