Arcado Elementary fifth graders, from left, Alex Tang, Michael Lindsey and Velda Wang give School Board member Louise Radloff a package of mint tea at a ceremony on Monday to recognize Gwinnett County Public Schools Green Ribbon School District award from the U.S. Department of Education. (Staff Photo: Keith Farner)
LILBURN — A school that grows mint and herbs, and recycles paper, plastics and cell phones was held up as a pioneer and example for Gwinnett County Public Schools.
Arcado Elementary hosted State School Superintendent John Barge and GCPS CEO/Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks on Monday as it celebrated the district’s Green Ribbon School District award from the U.S. Department of Education. GCPS was among only 14 school districts in the country to receive the award, Barge said. The program showcases schools and districts across the country where teachers, students and the community work together for energy efficiency, a healthy school environment and environmental education.
For Gwinnett, the 12th-largest district in the country, that means 23 million square feet of Energy Star-certified areas, which leads the nation in K-12 certified building space. Those Energy Star-certified buildings use 35 percent less energy, generate 35 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions and cost up to 40 cents less per square foot to operate than similar buildings across the country.
Energy efficient upgrades of facilitites across the district included lighting retrofits in classrooms, occupancy sensors, automated energy management systems, water source heat pumps and variable frequency drives, Barge said.
At a ceremony, students from the school’s “green team” passed out mint tea to visiting adults, and refreshments also included mint-flavored lemonade. The mint came from the school’s garden.
The award, first announced in March, included $5,000 from the Captain Planet Foundation and the Turner Foundation.
Principal Penny Palmer Young showed examples that the school uses for reusable sandwich bags, utensils and napkins. She said the school has promoted an anti-idling campaign and to increase awareness to reduce society’s impact on the environment.
Wilbanks noted Arcado’s environmental accomplishments over decades, including a trail and a rolling science bus.
“This school and cluster has been very supportive and active with protecting our environment,” Wilbanks said in the school’s media center.
Wilbanks said the district was the first to buy low-emission vehicles before it was popular, which drew criticism at the time. He said 84 schools and about 49,000 students participate in the Green and Healthy Schools Program, which is a joint initiative with Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful.
Barge said Gwinnett’s efforts fall in line with a statewide initiative about a career pathway for high school students that began this fall. Many of the jobs of the future that Gwinnett students will look for are related to energy, Barge said, including the creation of energy, alternative forms of energy, renewable energy and clean sources of energy.
“There’s no better way to have and grow a work force prepared for those jobs than to begin now thinking about them, experiencing them and knowing what it takes to go the next step,” Barge said. “I want to congratulate Gwinnett for doing that.”
Young said the students’ hard work was celebrated on Monday, and they recognize the importance of the award.
“We believe we are a model school in Gwinnett County for our environmental efforts,” she said. “Our children’s actions and behaviors are an example for other children. So they understand the significance of this day. They are the leaders of our future.”