Youth CAN students have led the greening of our school since asking NSTAR for an energy audit in December 2008. The newest part of our green plan is this project: The Sustainable Roofscape Learning Lab (green roof), which began in June of 2009. The green roof will offer opportunities to learn in an exciting outdoor setting. It will include traditional intensive and extensive types of green roof, solar panels, small-scale wind turbines, a greenhouse with produce for the cafeteria, a weather station, and two outdoor classrooms. In addition to the green roof’s environmental impact of reducing CO2, the heat island effect, and storm runoff, the roof will affect the entire school. For example, science classes can analyze the difference in CO2 exchange between intensive and extensive portions, art classes can sketch on the roof, economics classes can discuss the benefits of buying and eating locally, alums can enjoy special events on the roof, etc. The curriculum that’s being designed to go with the roof will give students important understandings with lasting effects. Youth CAN has led all steps of this project including forming the faculty curriculum development committee, participating in design meetings with architects to create the conceptual drawings, and working to secure funding. The sustainable roofscape will bring important new learning to BLS students, demonstrate a successful green roof for the local colleges in our Fenway area green roof student coalition, and model how sustainability curriculum and green changes can be incorporated at schools across Massachusetts.
Of course, first and foremost, the green roof will reduce carbon in the atmosphere. It will help with the reduction of greenhouse gases and with curbing the heat island effect in Boston’s Longwood Medical Area (our neighborhood), It will allow BLS to help reduce its energy use, and in combination with other building and energy systems improvements that came from the energy audit, will help to improve our building's energy performance. Because we are the benchmarked school for the Boston Public Schools, this will help set a higher standard for the sustainability performance of Boston public schools in general. The roof will also help reduce storm water runoff from BLS into the Boston Harbor by retaining water, and will improve the health of people in our school by increasing the oxygen and fresh air available in and outside of the school building. Growing organic produce on the roof to be used in the cafeteria will improve our health, too, and be better for the environment. The green roof will provide opportunities and the facilities to support the curriculum that we’ve been trying to promote with Youth CAN’s Massachusetts Education for Sustainability Campaign. The roof will also provide opportunities for site visits by other schools in the BPS that are interested in developing a green roof. Because we will document all phases and elements of the project so that other schools may replicate them, it will have impact beyond just our school.
The Sustainable Roofscape Learning Lab is intended to demonstrate several New England micro-environments, as well as different green roof systems, and different greenhouse systems. The learning lab will provide opportunities to analyze the efficiency and effectiveness of these systems. Students will be able to compare the heat differences between black portions of the roof and albedo portions. They will collect data from wind turbines and solar thermal panels, an study rain acidity and the impact of the roof’s absorption of storm runoff. The roof will give teachers ways to integrate sustainability into their curriculum through the use of a natural setting where students can better learn about the relationships and interconnections between natural, economic, and social systems. The green roof and greenhouse will bring a whole new dimension to the oldest school in the country. We have no doubt that the green roof will not only change our fellow student s' behaviors in our school, but that it will also have an impact well beyond the school because information about it, and the curriculum that will be developed for the facility, will be shared online on the “For Educators Page” of the BLS Youth CAN website at: HYPERLINK http://www.blsyouthcan.org/BLS_Youth_C.A.N./For_Educators.html
BLS Youth CAN (www.blsyouthcan.org) was inspired to pursue this ambitious idea when we first started thinking about comprehensive ways to green our school after receiving an energy audit from NSTAR and being benchmarked as the school that other Boston public schools will learn from and hopefully follow. We wanted to do something big, something that would bring about real change, something that could really excite students and faculty and make a highly visible statement about what was possible when like-minded students, teachers, parents, and local citizens form a viable coalition. A green roof seemed the perfect way to accomplish the double goal of reducing our school’s carbon footprint and showcasing education for sustainability with curriculum aligned to state standards. It seemed a natural way to create opportunities for developing an education for sustainability curriculum proposal that teachers could pilot at the Boston Latin School, and then promote beyond the school through an already established Massachusetts Education for Sustainability Campaign. The idea’s development has been an exciting joint effort led by Youth CAN students, our faculty advisor, and our wonderful, creative, (and generous architect, Gail Sullivan (who herself was chosen by students, and has donated all of her time so far pro bono!) In the last few months we’ve enlisted school administrators and faculty, as well as Boston Public Schools Facilities staff, and some city officials to help us move forward with the green roof in a way that that will fit with the school department’s requirements and still fulfill the important goals we’ve set for our project.
Founded as an after school climate change club at Boston Latin School in January of 2007, BLS Youth CAN has since started a whole network of Youth CAN member groups (there are now 16 groups), and holds an annual summit on global climate change at MIT for students and educators (last year, at the 3rd annual summit, we had 300 students and educators in attendance.) The Sustainable Roofscape Learning Lab (SRLL) project grew out of smaller efforts to green our school. We tried to increase foam tray recycling in the school cafeteria and we got the school to switch over to CFLs in the school auditorium (509 of them!). We asked students to take carbon calculation quizzes and efficiency pledges and got the school to participate in the National Teach-In on Global Climate Change Solutions for the past two years. At the Teach-Ins, we brought in local politicians for a panel, we showed films, held assemblies, and got faculty to teach about sustainability in their classes. We launched a campaign to try to require the state to teach about sustainability (The Education for Sustainability Campaign), and made a movie about it showing our teachers incorporating sustainability curriculum into their classes so that others outside of BLS could see how easy it is to do (view the film on the BLS Youth CAN You Tube Channel MESCLC Films). Youth CAN students also got the school to compete in Do Something’s Increase Your Green Competition and won two years in a row. After these smaller efforts, we realized that to make really big changes, we needed to have an energy audit, so we applied to NSTAR to have BLS become a benchmarked school, and were able to get the energy audit for free provided that we share what we learned from the audit with all the other schools in the Boston Public School System and document our energy saving and emissions reducing changes so that other schools can learn from them and make similar changes at their schools. The first step was inviting a green roof specialist to come to a Youth CAN meeting to talk to us about green roofs. We invited Karen Weber of Earth Our Only Home, Foundations for a Green Future to come and speak at BLS in April of 2009 and then contacted Khadijah Brown at the Boston Public Schools Facilities Department to find out if we were even allowed to try and work on getting a green roof. We got the okay to try, but were told we’d have to do it ourselves and raise the money ourselves. So we wrote to all the Boston Latin School Architects that we could think of and asked if anyone would be willing to work with us on a plan for free. Surprisingly, three firms responded that they wanted to help us, so we then asked them all to submit proposals. Youth CAN chose to work with Studio G architects because they offered to allow students to participate in every phase of the design process. We also thought that they were the most green of all the architecture firms that were interested. We met with Gail Sullivan, the principal of Studio G Architects for the first time on June 19th and took our first trip to the school roof. Youth CAN students met with Studio G all summer long to convey our green roof ideas to her and see them translated into actual drawings. Studio G has to date donated $20,000 worth of pro-bono work on the design process and conceptual drawings. Now, having presented our project to the BLS community a number of times since the start of school (September 17th, October 5th) including inviting Bryan Glascock and Brad Swing from Boston Mayor Thomas Menino's office and City Councillor John Connolly, we have now reached a point where we need funding to be able to proceed further. Our next step is to fund a complete structural analysis of the building and roof so that we will have the information we need to go forward with the next phase of architectural drawings and fundraising.
Our school, the Boston Latin School, has helped us in several ways. Most importantly, BLS is our “home base” and launching pad. It is the school that has made it possible for Youth CAN to exist. Secondly, the administration, has always encouraged us in our efforts, agreeing to every meeting or event we’ve asked to hold. Youth CAN, however, is and has been a student group. Only since last June have teachers started to come to an occasional Youth CAN meeting, and only since September have some of them agreed to take on responsibilities when we ask them to. We are very pleased and proud that the chair of the science department, Kathleen Bateman, has agreed to spearhead our plans to have teachers develop curriculum and get training in education for sustainability to support our curriculum pilot. Other teachers have agreed to do research on wind turbines and composting for the green roof. We’re so grateful that our efforts to engage faculty across disciplines has paid off. We’re starting to sense a real atmosphere of excitement about this project, a feat not easy in a school of 2400 students. Additionally, as we mentioned before, we’ve been working with the cafeteria staff, too, regarding potentially bringing fresh produce from the roof and from local farms to school lunches. The school site council even welcomed a presentation from us about the project and asked us for a blurb to put in the parent newsletter to get the word out. Lastly, since Boston Latin is the oldest school in the country, celebrating its 375th anniversary this year, it has greater reach; what it does garners more attention. These are two things that we’ve always tried to take advantage of and that’s definitely something we’ll be able to do with this project in particular. If the Sustainable Roofscape Learning Lab becomes a reality, so many schools will hear about it, and hopefully be inspired to take some part of it back to their own communities.
We’ve also included a link to our architect’s blog, which has a link to a virtual walk through of the proposed green roof
Students in Youth CAN initiated this project and have continued to be the ones who are running it. We have had lots of encouragement from the headmaster and school administrators, but no funding from them. We’ve been the only ones really working and continue to be the ones really organizing and planning all greening projects along with our fantastic faculty advisor, Cate Arnold. Every step of the way we’ve helped design the many diverse features of the roof in collaboration with our architect (a Boston Latin School parent), as well as the all the elements of the project that will reach beyond just Boston Latin School. Youth CAN students have written emails to potential partners, sold trays to BLS families, teachers, and homerooms, prepared powerpoints and displays about the project, held endless planning meetings, made flyers and posters, had presentations, and reached out to the community. We have invited lots of our potential partners to come and meet with us. For example we've met with the BPS Nutrition Services and Anim Steele from the Food Project, who talked about the Real Food Challenge, about growing food in our future green house and about getting a farm to school program going at BLS to supplement what we’ll be able to grow in the greenhouse. We met with a United Hydroponics, a local hydroponics company, about possibly adding a hydroponic growth system to our greenhouse. The fact that an afterschool club is running a project of such great scope part is of its impressiveness – and also why we need this money.
Sustainability is all about taking part in the cycles and systems of our society and environment. Youth CAN, together with our architect, have worked to practice sustainability in every part aspect and layer of the Sustainable Roofscape Learning Lab. One part of our project that demonstrates sustainability is, of course, its most basic element, the intensive and extensive systems of vegetation. Instead of rainwater ending up in the sewer system as storm runoff, it will be absorbed by the plants back into one of nature’s most fundamental cycles, the water cycle. Another example of sustainability is the inclusion of photovoltaic panels, solar panels, and a couple of different types of wind turbines in our designs. Not only we would we be able to take advantage of he technology at hand as a teaching tool (including comparing the efficiency and capability of both), but we could also use the electricity generated to power some part of the building. Another way we’ve done this is supporting local manufacturers and businesses. Yet another example is how for our first phase of installing 350 sedum trays on October 24 in honor of Bill McKibben’s 350.org’s International Day of Climate Action to raise awareness about the need to return to 350 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere, we’re buying trays from a Planted Roof, Inc., a Boston area company. Our greenhouse is the perfect example of how we’ve maintained sustainability as a guiding principle throughout the entire project. First, we’re working with two more local businesses, United Hydroponics, Inc., and Top Sprouts, Inc. to design it. We plan to water the vegetation inside with rainwater by using a butterfly roof and an irrigation system (suggested by the architects). We plan to use the food and other plants grown inside, again, not only to educate students about botany and horticulture, but also to teach them about the importance of eating locally. The ultimate demonstration of this will be using the produce grown in our very own cafeteria, as well as partnering with regional farms to supplement that. On that front, Youth CAN also had a meeting with the head of our cafeteria, Sandy Lowney, some representatives from BPS Nutrition Services, Anim Steele from the Boston Food Project, who is working to develop a national campaign to bring sustainably grown food to college campuses, as well as some parents. The idea of instituting a Farm to School program at Boston Latin School shows how the project just keeps growing in amazing new directions. Our school is 375 years old this year. The school and its’ traditions have lasted a very long time. We are happy to be bringing something new and badly needed to our school. Youth CAN’s slogan for this project is: The oldest school, the newest thinking. We believe this project is bringing those two things together to create very positive opportunities in the lives of the students and faculty, the families and community, and for Boston Latin School itself that will have lasting effects on all of us for the foreseeable future.
The first way we are involving the local community is by simply involving the student body, parents and alumni in this project, both as part of the process of getting the green roof and later in actually using the green roof itself. Right now we’re involved in a campaign to sell 350 trays of sedum for extensive portions of the roof by October 24th 2009 in conjunction with the 350.org movement and a day of international actions to raise awareness about the need to get back to a reduced level of 350 parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere (as versus the 387 parts per million we currently have.) We’re asking BLS families to donate trays of sedum by the 24th. We’ve sold 200 trays so far! We’ve sent letters out on the parent listserv about the project, put up a poster series depicting the plans in the hallway, put articles in the parent newsletter, sent volunteer students to all the homerooms with flyers and announcements about the project, and put announcements in the daily bulletins for students. We made announcements in all the opening day assemblies for the six grades at BLS. These early steps are already raising awareness in the BLS community about ways they can be more environmentally conscious in their daily lives, and these new understandings will inevitably filter back to the many diverse communities that members of our BLS community are a part of. Secondly, the Boston Latin School is located in an area of Boston, called the Fenway (near Fenway Park), that is filled with other schools and colleges including several segments of Harvard University, Simmons, Emmanuel, Northeastern, MassArt, and Wheelock Colleges, as well as many hospitals (our immediate neighborhood is called “the Longwood Medical Area”). We decided to take advantage of this, writing to the schools’ environmental and sustainability organizations and committees and inviting them to form a “Fenway Green Roof Student Coalition.” The goal of this coalition is to work together to bring green roofs to each of our respective institutions, eventually creating a sort of green roof enclave that would enable us to put more pressure on the local hospitals to pursue their own green roofs. We hope our Fenway Green Roof Student Coalition will become a model for community action and working together to fight climate change and live more sustainably. As a kickoff to this coalition, we are hosting a block party on October 24 in conjunction with 350.org’s International Day of Climate Action with the college groups and twenty youth community organizations that do green work (like Bikes Not Bombs, YouthBuild Boston, the Teen Ambassadors of the Boston Nature Center, etc.). At the event, we hope to “plant’ the first 350 trays sold for the extensive part of our green roof. We have asked our own faculty to partner with us on a Greening BLS Committee that will supervise the plan for our greening efforts overall, and help us prioritize what to try to do in what order. Since the start of the school year faculty members have begun to get more excited about the project, and a few have begun to take some jobs to help us. For example, a science teacher offered to work on getting information about wind turbines, and en English is going to a workshop about composting where he will get us a worm bin. We also asked faculty to form an interdisciplinary faculty committee to work on curriculum development for our education for sustainability pilot proposal and already have several faculty willing to work all year long to develop curriculum. We are working on a plan with Zach Smith of the Wright Institute at Tufts to also provide educator training so that teachers will have good resources for developing curriculum. We have formed a coalition of local educators, service providers, and public officials to help us with the Massachusetts Education for Sustainability Campaign. We are working with our longstanding partner, the Technology and Culture Forum at MIT to ensure that the roof top data collection, online documentation of the energy saving measures we implement, and curriculum we pilot will be readily accessible online for others to use.
Involving the community is and has always been a priority for Youth CAN because we understand how much stronger we can be and how much bigger a difference we can make when we work together with other individuals and organizations. That’s why BLS Youth CAN started a network of Youth CAN groups that now has 16 member groups, and why we host an annual global climate change summit at MIT for students and educators. To paraphrase Boston City Councilor-At-Large John Connolly, a steadfast supporter of Youth CAN, involving the community is how, one person at a time, we can change the world.