Green schools shaping good stewards of environment

Berry Elementary School second-graders took out their green plastic knifes and chopped red peppers, cucumbers, cilantro and carrots before tossing the ingredients into a mixing bowl.

“This is fun,” said student Amairanny Macias as she smelled the ingredients for the herb quinoa and bean salad the students were making from ingredients from the school’s vegetable garden. “We’re going to mix the cheese in next.”

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Since the environmental studies magnet school was rebuilt into a green school, many of the school’s environmental features, including the garden, serve as learning tools for the students. The school, which opened in 2011, is one of HISD’s newest green schools.

In April, Berry received a Silver LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, helping the district meet its goal of building facilities to LEED standards. The building’s unique and sustainability features has led to several tours of the facility this school year. Last week, a group from the Annunciation Orthodox School in Houston toured Berry to see firsthand how its environmental enhancements and 21st century design is impacting student learning.

The group watched students use the vegetables they grow to make a healthy meal in a cooking class as part of the school’s partnership with Recipe for Success, a nonprofit committed to changing the way children eat.

“Because the students plant everything, they eat it,” said Berry Principal Ali Oliver. “How many kids have you seen want to eat kale? When you see them out in the garden picking vegetables, they come in so excited.”

The students wash the vegetables and have used the radish they’ve grown to make a healthy brownie recipe. They’ve also made ketchup from scratch.

“They’re not only learning how to prepare meals, they’re learning new vocabulary and math skills because they’re making unique foods and measuring ingredients,” Oliver said.

Oliver calls the two-story building a learning tool. The building design, which includes open and flexible classrooms, complements interactive student learning and teaching. Some of the learning areas have environmental themes, including an open classroom that is known as the “water conservation room.” With blue painted walls, fish illustrations, and water cycle diagrams, the room offers students a visual lesson on the importance of water to the environment.

Students are also learning how to use recycled materials to create art. “We’re collecting bottle caps to make mosaics,” said fifth-grader Angelina Martinez, who was recently interviewed for an Earth Day segment on Berry for Houston PBS and Houston Matters, a talk show on KUHF radio.

The building is teaching students to be environmentally conscious and to be good stewards of the environment, Oliver said. “You can sit in a classroom and talk about these things, but to be a part of it is a different story.”

Another green school getting attention is Atherton Elementary School, which was visited last week by a local Green Schools Committee affiliated with the U.S. Green Building Council. The school opened in the fall and was also built to LEED standards. The school is currently seeking silver certification.

The building is two stories to increase green space and features native plants to reduce irrigation and maintenance. Three recycling stations sit in a hallway outside of the school cafeteria, and more than 40 percent of the building products are made with recycled materials. The building includes exposed building materials such as the brick in the library and the pipes along the ceiling, giving students a glimpse into how the building works. The building also features windows in every classroom to save costs on lighting and to provide students with a better learning environment.

The Green Schools Committee toured the school’s classrooms, cafeteria and music, dance and theater rooms, which include a black box effect and acoustic tiles to keep the sound from bouncing off the walls. They also visited the school’s rooftop where the principal plans to add a garden where students can plant vegetables and flowers and learn about the weather.

The committee plans to tour all of HISD’s LEED schools and is currently helping Berry develop signage for its sustainability features to help students, teachers and campus visitors understand what they mean. The group is also interested in helping Atherton get its rooftop garden finished.

“I was determined to get this school built,” Atherton Principal Albert Lemons told the tour group. “I dreamed it. My focus is on the children of this school and to see that they get the best education in the best learning environment.”