On April 22, the U.S. Department of Education released the names of the 2020 Green Ribbon Schools.

In New Jersey, two schools were honored: Cape May City Elementary School in Cape May and Readington Middle School in Hunterdon County. The schools were selected for their innovative efforts to address the three “pillars” of the program: reducing environmental impact and utility costs, improving health and wellness, and ensuring effective sustainability education.

Cape May City’s Green Initiatives Cape May City Elementary School (CMCES) serves 150 students, 42% of whom qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

Located on 36 acres of diverse habitat, including field, forest, and salt marsh wetlands, the school is a Certified Wildlife Habitat through the National Wildlife Federation.

Fourth- through sixth-grade students are involved in a 10-month, county habitat study with a focus on the connections that are discovered during their explorations. In addition, all students learn about the Atlantic coast horseshoe crab/shorebird phenomenon, observing the baby horseshoe crabs as the school participates in the Green Eggs and Sand U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service program.

The school’s Earth Club students, who oversee edible school gardens and the composting and recycling programs, are currently completing their Sustainable Food pathway through Eco-Schools USA; the school has also participated in Sustainable Jersey for Schools, earning a Bronze and two Silver certifications.

In the fall of 2015, the school participated in a citywide energy audit, using ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager. Following this audit, an Energy Savings Improvement Plan resulted in completing the switchover to LED lights in all areas. This change was estimated to save more than  $3,000 a year. The school also uses BERT smart plugs, which are programmed to automatically shut off connected electronics from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. schoolwide. The estimated savings is $5,000–$6,000 a year. In addition, the school campus wind turbine produces approximately $400 in savings.

CMCES is also dedicated to building strong alliances with families and community partners. This not only strengthens the school climate and culture but provides opportunities for civic engagement. The school participates in the Coast Guard Community annual festival, which includes sustainability activities. In addition, the school holds an annual, green STEAM festival open to the public with displays, hands-on activities, and a free eco-friendly raffle. These events provide a chance to educate and encourage participation in environmentally sustainable choices.

Readington’s “Triple Bottom Line”  Readington Middle School (RMS), which serves more than 500 sixth- to eighth-grade students, has Eco-Schools USA Silver recognition and Sustainable Jersey for Schools bronze certification.

Students work side-by-side with  teachers, facility staff, engineers, master gardeners, and local environmentalists to examine and understand energy usage patterns, the rise of invasive species, and rain gardens as a solution to keep the watershed clean.

Students rehabilitated a neglected native garden to examine changes that have occurred over the past decade. They developed a grant application and were awarded funds to create test beds to investigate resource use, carbon footprint, and crop yield of traditional farming as compared with indoor food growth in vertical hydroponic gardens.

Students are also designing a regenerative aquaponic food system for the school and are devising a smart solar-powered rain barrel irrigation that senses when watering is needed, based on real-time environmental conditions, to conserve water and optimize food growth.

Though RMS was built more than 60 years ago, the evolution of the building and the surrounding environment demonstrates the value RMS places on green technologies and natural features that enhance well-being and environmental and economic health.

Nearly 30% of the school’s energy is obtained from rooftop solar panels and ground arrays. Energy usage and savings data are displayed outside of the cafeteria, and the 1:1 Chromebook initiative allows students and staff to download data and share and submit work electronically, drastically reducing the need for printing and copying.  The school tracks resource use in ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager.

Due to the school’s rural location, all students ride the school bus. Consolidated bus routes put in place in the district in 2015 have resulted in improved efficiency and reduced fuel usage.

An Indoor Air Quality plan is in place to ensure that HVAC equipment is maintained and filters are cleaned to promote good air quality inside the building.

The district green committee is actively led by a board member who is an environmental engineer. The superintendent initiated and supports infusion of social and emotional learning to help cultivate a caring, participatory, and equitable environment. Curriculum supervisors align courses with education for sustainability standards and bolster nonfiction reading. The business administrator, facilities manager, and energy efficiency coordinator all keep an eye on the triple bottom line –the district’s social, environmental and economic impact.

More information on sustainability initiatives at both schools is available online in the descriptions of the Green Ribbon Award winners here.