By Anne Marie Lodholz, Social Studies teacher and Chair of the Sustainability Committee
The U.S. Department of Education announced this month that St. Louis University High School is among the 2018 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools award honorees. SLUH was nominated by the Missouri Department of Education and was the only high school in the state this year to receive the award. To date, it is the first Jesuit school that has received the award.
Across the country, 46 schools, six districts and six postsecondary institutions are being honored for their innovative efforts to reduce environmental impact and utility costs, improve health and wellness, and ensure effective sustainability education.
SLUH turns 200 this year and is a vibrant institution because it is rooted in a mission that names and holds us accountable to the Catholic Church and its social teaching. Sustainability, in both its broader human and cultural sense, as well as its more specifically environmental meaning, is a fundamental part of that mission. In our formal mission statement we consider our location in the City of St. Louis, and our commitment to global and local justice – including providing economically disadvantaged students a program of study that connects academic knowledge to moral responsibility and our desire to form compassionate young men – as a commitment to sustainability.
In his encyclical Laudato Si - Our Common Home, Pope Francis says: “Let us be protectors of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.” This document guides and informs all of our efforts in the Three Pillars. Our progress has been led by a newly formed, vertically integrated Sustainability committee consisting of members of the School Administration, Finance Office, Maintenance and Facilities leadership, Faculty, Student Sustainability Committee and Garden Director.
In terms of Environmental Impact, we are creating opportunities so students, teachers and volunteers can help us become Energy Star certified. We are transitioning to LED lighting in our facilities, have added occupancy sensors and faucet aerators to save electricity and water, and have done extensive replacement of reflective roofing and added insulation to increase efficiency and reduce energy use for cooling. We have documented a 7% energy savings due to these efforts. We have a student waste team that has worked to revise our signage and reorganized our receptacles, and as result of decreasing waste we have reduced our waste contract fees. Through generous donations by STLComposting, Republic Waste Services and Earth Day STL, supplemented with volunteer hours, we composted over half a ton of material and recycled almost 20 yards of material at our Bicentennial Celebration in our attempt to have a ZERO WASTE BIRTHDAY PARTY.
In the area surrounding the school, more than 40 houses were dismantled and recycled, and existing streets and alleys were developed into a large green space available to the neighborhood. Storm-water run-off now percolates into the soil on the western side of our Danis Field House. We have also nearly doubled the amount of landscaped area featuring native, drought resistant and low maintenance plantings.
In terms of Health and Wellness, SLUH has worked to protect students and faculty from airborne chemicals in our labs and storage facilities. We have a number of innovative programs that teach health and wellness to students through Physical Education classes such as Yoga, rock climbing, and biking through the city and Katy Trail. We also encourage personal health and wellness habits among faculty and students through all-school assemblies, free health screenings and activities such as golf, hiking, floating, camping, hiking and foam rolling.
Finally, we document our commitment to Education through work we have done in institutional and departmental curriculum review and formal recognition of sustainable goals. In 2016, we ran a Curriculum Institute on linking the Laudato Si and the UN Sustainable Development Goals to design and launch new cross-curricular initiatives. One result was a new, required Human Geography course in Social Studies centered on sustainability themes and deepening cross-curricular coordination with Freshman Biology. Our ongoing educational efforts include offering AP Environmental Science for more than 10 years, with 12% of graduating students participating and all scoring 3 or above. In addition, many of our subject assignments explicitly incorporate themes like mountain-top removal, invasive species, coral bleaching and alternative energy development. Our English, theology, history and art courses regularly touch on the complex issues that challenge us as we hope to holistically care for all of God’s creation. SLUH students design, build and race energy efficient cars in the MO Supermileage Contest; design and launch weather balloons to collect climate data; and plant, harvest and prepare food from our Backer Community garden that they serve at local homeless shelters.
Our urban location adjacent to Forest Park with its many biological and cultural resources, the Grove neighborhood, the Saint Louis Science Center, Compton Drew middle school, Barnes Jewish and Children’s Hospitals, allows us to partner in unique ways that provide incredible curricular and co-curricular opportunities for our students.
We thank all of our faculty and staff, parents, students and specifically Mr. Robert Beckman, Mr. Ross Watson, and Ms. Jan Weaver for their help with our application and for all of their ongoing efforts to further develop SLUH as resilient community.
About the Application Process
As a Jesuit Catholic school celebrating its 200 year history, sustainability is not a new concept. The very halls, basement workrooms, and stories of alums and benefactors tell the tale of saving what we have now and generously giving so that others after us have the ability to learn about the richness of creation and grow into the individuals God calls us all to become.
In 2014, SLUH became serious about trying to audit and strengthen these efforts by applying to become a National Green Ribbon School. Several interested students, faculty and parent volunteers completed the application and attempted to submit it before realizing that Missouri no longer participated in the National Green Ribbon program. Not giving up, Mr. Nate Beckemeyer '14 wrote a letter to the editor of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, decrying this state of affairs. It was printed on Earth Day that year and as a result of the work of Ms. Jan Weaver of the Missouri Environmental Education Association and dedicated educators and volunteers, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education reinstated the voluntary and ZERO COST program in 2016.
SLUH applied again in the winter of 2016 and was recognized as a Missouri Green School, but our application was not forwarded to the U.S. Department of Education.
Last year as a result of work by Mr. Jack Wilson and John Kelly of Chaminade, SLUH began meeting with faculty from other area high schools to work on developing sustainable initiatives. This year we invited Mr. Mike Dittrich, Principal of Maplewood Richmond Heights Middle School, a 2017 Nationally Recognized Green Ribbon School, to provide advice on the application process. His insight and that of many invaluable individuals like Robert Beckmann of Missouri Enterprise, Hope Gribble of U.S. Green Building Council, Ross Watson of Jacobs Engineering, and Susanne Joie of InJoy Sustainability have helped us strengthen our programs and collect data to earn this year's recognition.
They have also helped us realize opportunities for growth. We are far from perfect, and in our humanity, we fall many times. Hopefully, this award will inspire us to become more aware of our intricate interconnectedness to each other and to the many communities that support us and depend on us as brothers and sisters trying to find each other and God in our Common Home.
This year we tried to institute student teams to work on achieving zero waste and energy. We took students to the National Farm to Cafeteria conference in Cincinnati, OH to learn about implementing sustainable food initiatives, and we won the 2018 Innovation award for our art show Waste Not, Want Not: Art Reimagined in the 2018 Green Schools Quest (see below).
We look forward to developing these initiatives and others like it with the help of community volunteers, parents and students in our third century! AMDG
Congratulations to the Jr. Bills whose Waste Not, Want Not: Art Reimagined submission won the Green Schools Quest 2018 Innovation Award. See their video clip below.