School district recognized for continued sustainability effort

Second graders wrote letters to the school board requesting more trees be planted around Franklin Elementary

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COURTESY OF SHANNON FOCHT

MADYSEN MCLAIN, Evergreen reporter

Teachers and staff at the Pullman School District implement sustainability education through planting trees and creating owl boxes. This effort led to the district being named one of the 2020 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School District Sustainability Awardees on April 22. 

“I became convinced that the only way to honor our student’s futures is to ensure that there is a healthy place for them to live in,” said Allison Munch-Rotolo, school board representative for the sustainability committee. 

The district received this award for establishing a sustainability committee, which helped complete several projects. 

Shannon Focht, Pullman School District communications coordinator, said the committee first sought a comprehensive energy audit to get a baseline for what the schools could improve on. 

The audit, costing around $11,000, found that energy could be saved with new, more efficient lighting, as well as reducing heating and cooling when the building is not being used, she said.

The district would like to purchase more efficient water boilers as a longer-term project, Focht said.

“It’s been the best committee I think I’ve ever been on,” said Nancy Nelson, Franklin Elementary representative on the committee. “As a committee, we have been able to move forward during every meeting.”

Nelson said the committee will propose the goal of a 20 percent reduction in energy consumption over the spread of 10 years to the administration.

The district applied through the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, which then nominated the district to the national-level award, she said.

Focht said the application for the award showed three areas of improvement relating to sustainability, including usage of water, the health of students and sustainability education for students. 

“It was a really good opportunity for us to kind of compile all of the work we’ve done related to sustainability,” Focht said. 

Munch-Rotolo said there were already composting programs at different schools within the district. The PTA also partnered with the City of Pullman to teach students about conserving water. However, there was no committee leading this effort. 

Munch-Rotolo saw the need and helped start the sustainability committee in 2019.

“I came to the superintendent … I said I’ve never asked for anything before, but if there could be something, this would be the thing we take seriously,” she said.

Nelson said her class of second graders expressed interest in having more trees around their school. They wanted more shade to sit in because right now the only shade on a hot day is at the side of the building. 

“They have clear memories of days when it was so hot on the playground,” she said. “They were looking for shade and they couldn’t find it.”

Nelson’s second graders all wrote letters to the school board about their request. The group also presented their letters to the board.

She said the committee has agreed to focus on planting trees at one school per year. The class worked to count the current number of trees before schools closed due to COVID-19.

Jennifer Harbour, STEM teacher at Kamiak and Jefferson Elementary, said her third-grade students constructed owl boxes last year. 

These boxes were not just something fun to make, but the students were able to learn about the agricultural significance they held, she said.

“I think they really connected to that project,” Harbour said. “They know that they live in farmland. That’s something that the age group is aware of, the agricultural needs of our area, and then talking about why certain animals are important in those spaces.”

The students used cardstock, as well as an engineering design process to develop their own prototype, Harbour said.

Focht said the Green Ribbon Award ceremony is scheduled for August in Washington, D.C.  The recognition also includes a $1,000 award from California Casualty for travel to the ceremony or for sustainability efforts.

“They’ve made a really big difference,” Focht said. “We know that this doesn’t mean our work is done.”