At a visioning meeting late last year,the question came up: What are kids actually learning in green schools? It’s great that we’re building healthier and more efficient learning environments, but when buildings are completed and occupied, is it back to the same old routine? Or are teachers encouraged and empowered to teach kids about sustainability? Everyday I read about another school that’s designed to be a “teaching tool” or a “living lab.” But those are just words. Are the buildings truly being used as they were intended?
To answer that question, we enlisted the help of Stacy Smedley, designer of the world’s fourth Living Building, preconstruction manager at Skanska, and executive director of the SEED Collaborative, a nonprofit that has designed regionally sensitive, Living Building Challenge-ready modular classrooms. We also reconvened with Rachel Gutter, last year’s guest editor and executive director of the Center for Green Schools, as well as a number of other experts. Together, we found four schools—all public institutions—that truly integrate sustainability and everyday lesson plans and are educating and inspiring kids around energy, water, food, and design.
One school we visited, a K-6 public charter on the South Side of Chicago, is tackling these topics and more. The Academy for Global Citizenship is such an inspiring place that more than 4,000 people visit the school each year. On one of the days I was there, a dump truck backed into the playground area and delivered a mountain of fresh soil about the size of the school’s chicken coop. The students went wild. They cheered and beat their plastic buckets with their plastic shovels.
Video: Watch art director Aaron Lewis and managing editor Timothy Schuler introduce the issue
As if creating a supportive learning environment for these students—who face extraordinary challenges every day—was not enough, the Academy for Global Citizenship plans to build a net-positive, Living Building Challenge-certified campus in its current neighborhood. This will be a first for Chicago and the state of Illinois and raise the bar for public charter schools across the globe.
The final piece of our 2014 Education Issue is a look at the issue of indoor air quality in today’s schools. Research shows that toxic chemcials found in many building products have negative impacts on student health and academic performance. This realization has given rise to third-party certifications such as GREENGUARD and level, which ensure the healthfulness of our buildings, and design solutions such as Sprout Space, a modular classroom by Perkins+Will that is full of fresh air.
A special thank you to everyone who helped us create this issue, especially our cover stars, Mia and Julian (and their mothers). The 2014 Education Issue owes its existence to countless individuals, those who designed, built, funded, operate, and teach out of the many schools included, as well as those who helped us find them. But it is dedicated to today’s students, those remarkable, global citizens who remind us to be curious and ask questions and imagine a world better than the one we inherit.
Timothy A. Schuler, Managing Editor