‘Sustainable Schools’ aims to produce a cleaner generation of Memphians

Tuesday, April 05, 2016 - Friday, April 28, 2028

By Tom Charlier of The Commercial Appeal

Menthia Bradley can't stay out of trouble at school, which is a little odd given that she's the principal.

Bradley, director of schools at Memphis Business Academy in Frayser and principal of the middle and high schools, gets admonished by students for any misbehavior relating to the environment. Whether it's tossing the wrong items in the trash or wasting electricity, she doesn't get away with anything.

"They tell me, if I'm throwing paper away, 'No, recycle that ...,'" she said. "I got a ticket for leaving my computer on."

MBA, a charter school that operates three campuses, one of them a former Kmart, is among the latest to take part in an initiative known as the Sustainable Schools Challenge. Modeled after a much more complicated federal program, it was launched by the non-profit group Clean Memphis to offer schools a process by which they can get certified for becoming more environmentally conscious and sustainable.

The program is incorporated into the curriculum, and through it students learn ways to reduce energy and water consumption and divert solid waste away from landfills. They discover the importance of good indoor air quality and using safe chemicals for cleaning and pest control. They participate in community cleanups and education efforts, set out rain barrels to collect water for landscape irrigation, and grow healthful food in vegetable gardens.

Support for the initiative comes mainly from private foundations and corporate partners, but state and local agencies and utilities, including Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division, also help.

Janet Boscarino, co-founder and executive director of Clean Memphis, said the initiative emanated from one simple question: "How can we raise a generation of kids so it's ingrained in them to be more sustainable?"

Boscarino was inspired several years ago to help found Clean Memphis, which now has a budget of about $280,000, as a result of her frequent business travels across the nation. Memphis, she noticed, didn't compare well with other cities in terms of cleanliness.

High-profile cleanups and anti-litter campaigns help alleviate local pollution and environmental problems, she said, but they're only partial solutions.

"The real change comes from having a generation that better understands how to interact with the environment," Boscarino said.

After its inaugural year during 2014-15, the Sustainable Schools initiative has been expanded from 10 to 20 schools, including elementary, middle and high schools run by Shelby County Schools, the Achievement School District, charter organizations and private schools. One school already reduced its energy consumption by 21 percent through replacement of inefficient light bulbs and other measures, Boscarino said.

Participating schools soon will be applying for certification from an independent steering committee made up mostly of corporate sustainability experts. Initially, six to 10 schools likely will be eligible for "bronze" certification, while a few could get silver, Boscarino said. But within another year or so some should be ready to attain the highest — gold — certification.

At MBA's middle school, students last week had sessions devoted to water — including surface streams and aquifers — and energy.

Groups of them gathered to learn about how Memphis' drinking water, considered among the best in the world, comes from an underground saturated strata of sand and gravel that's protected from surface pollution by a dense layer of clay. They also were shown how to test water quality, and they were allowed to handle a crayfish as part of a lesson on the aquatic life found in the nearby Wolf River.

The following day, the students learned about the cost of energy and how to conserve it. Kristine Pierce, education coordinator with Clean Memphis, taught them how to calculate kilowatt-hours, each of which costs about 14 cents. With up to 24 light bulbs, each of them burning 100 watts, in a classroom, the cost of lighting can run high.

She handed them "tickets" to be given to teachers and staff who don't turn off lights, computers and other devices.

"You can tell your teacher she wasted two dollars by leaving lights on during lunch," Pierce said.

This week, MBA students will begin conducting energy audits to find further ways to conserve.

Anthony Anderson, founder and CEO of MBA, said energy-conservation is an important issue, particularly in the former Kmart building housing the middle and high schools. The monthly utility bill there averages about $11,000.

He told students that a savings of 10 percent or more would be "huge," allowing for more money to be spent on school programs, recreation activities and field trips.

"That's where it becomes real money," Anderson said. "Think of it as money that could be used elsewhere."

Location : Memphis, TN
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