In Hopewell Valley, lessons about global responsibility are not merely academic. Where it can, the district is working to minimize its carbon footprint – in Earth-friendly design and construction of new buildings, in energy-efficient system retrofits of its historic schoolhouses, in its use of high-performing, green cleaning products and HEPA-rated vacuum cleaners and in paperless communications.
Operations. Geothermal heating and cooling systems in place at Stony Brook Elementary and Timberlane Middle School are proven energy savers, reducing our usage by as much as 30%. Electricity-generating solar panels atop Timberlane and Bear Tavern Elementary are helping us lower our power needs further, as well as generating revenue in the form of credits. Heat recovery units, installed district-wide, are a leading-edge technology and a particular advantage at our 1920s-era schools, which are uniquely energy-inefficient. Our school gyms, heavily used after school hours, are being outfitted with more energy-efficient fluorescent lighting, generating twice the light at 25% of the power. Replacement windows are double-paned for optimal efficiency. District computers are automatically shut down during the overnight hours to further lower energy consumption. We use paints, finishes and cleaning products low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and ensure that composite wood products contain formaldehyde-free adhesives. By reducing the number of chemicals in our schools, we are significantly improving indoor air quality and enhancing our students’ learning environment.
Communications. As a record-generating and -keeping institution, we are mindful of our consumption of non-renewable resources. We continue to seek new ways to communicate without paper, from expanded use of e-mail and SNAPSHOTS, our district e-newsletter, to Virtual Backpack and Infinite Campus, our new online student information system. Beginning this year, the district also sharply reduced the number of traditional, summertime mailings, instead posting online back-to-school information and the voluminous paperwork required of student athletes. Beginning with the 2nd marking period, report cards are posted online.
Food services. In our cafeterias, our food service contractor, Sodexo, Inc., is taking steps to operate in a more socially responsible way. Local produce has been added to school menus, boosting freshness and reducing the demand for foods requiring longer transportation. Biodegradable trays are in use and this fall, students will drink milk from recyclable plastic bottles. In September 2009, Sodexo introduced the paperless MealpayPlus, an online choice for parents paying into student cafeteria accounts. Both figuratively and literally, the Sodexo staff in Hopewell Valley is going green. They opened the 2009-10 year wearing polo shirts made from recycled cotton.
Walking the Talk. Taken together, these steps, which helped earn Hopewell Valley a coveted Educator of the Year Award from the BPU’s Office on Clean Energy in 2008, are not merely saving energy and reducing costs. They present on-site learning opportunities for students and demonstrate that sustainable practices do matter. Most important, they inspire. Eco-minded students organized and operate recycling programs at the middle and high schools, removing thousands of pounds of paper and glass from the waste stream every year. A composting program, initiated by students and piloted in 2008-09 at the high school, is in the process of being replicated at school cafeterias district-wide. Student recycling of consumer goods continues to be creative in the years since high school students started collecting unwanted cell phones and empty inkjet printer cartridges several years ago. In 2009, Timberlane students organized a used jeans drive for clients at a Trenton youth shelter, and youngsters at Stony Brook Elementary packed off more than 200 pairs of unwanted sneakers to Nike for recycling into artificial turf fields and surfacing for playgrounds, running tracks and tennis courts. Organic vegetable and herb gardens, in place at the elementary schools and in the design stages at the upper schools, serve as outdoor classrooms, giving students hands-on learning in good nutrition and environmentally sensitive land use while providing abundant and creative teaching opportunities in science, math and language arts. Students at Timberlane in 2009 campaigned against junk mail, persuading their families to cancel more than 1,600 unwanted catalogs. Math teachers helped the students calculate the effort’s environmental effect on conserved trees, water and power.