By Supt. Dr. Nancy Rajanen
Despite the seemingly never-ending bitter winter grasp in Minnesota, the Waconia Schools have reason to think green. The school district is celebrating its selection by the Minnesota Department of Education as a national Green Ribbon Schools nominee.
The U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools recognition award honors schools and districts that are exemplary in reducing environmental impact and costs; improving the health and wellness of students and staff; and providing effective environmental and sustainability education, which incorporates STEM, civic skills and green career pathways. The recognition award is part of a larger U.S. Department of Education effort to identify and disseminate knowledge about practices that are proven to result in improved student engagement, higher academic achievement and graduation rates, and workforce preparedness, as well as a government wide goal of increasing energy independence and economic security.
The process for selection as a national Green Ribbon School initiates at the state level. The Minnesota Department of Education identified Waconia Schools as one of the state nominees, which is now forwarded to the national level for a final selection process. Regardless of whether or not the District is identified for the national level of recognition, our selection as a state nominee is significant.
The selection by the Minnesota Department of Education was based on the breadth of actions that have been initiated within the District over the past few years. Here are the success stories that helped us be selected by the state of Minnesota:
• The Waconia High School Conservation Club, with approximately 200 student members, is partnering on watershed management, conducting water & stream monitoring.
• The Bayview School Forest is regularly used by our elementary students for hands-on environmental education, in cooperation with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
• The School District was recently awarded a Farm to School grant, a $38,000 award from the US Department of Agriculture that will increase use of local produce sources for school meals.
The grant will also fund construction of a work space to be used by our adult students with disabilities to clean incoming produce for use in the kitchens. Local farmers will be able to sell produce, such as root vegetables which require cleaning, to the district for a mutual benefit. This project supports our goal of increasing locally sourced produce to 30 percent of our food dollars.
• The District recently completed more than $1.5 million in energy savings projects in all buildings through a program that funds the initial investment through future energy savings.
• After completing a cooperative project with the city of Waconia, the schools will have 100 percent of all district irrigation from storm water mitigation, and collection systems that recycle rain water.
• The Clearwater Edible Classroom continues to garner awards, providing produce for our schools and activities for our summer programs, and teaching students about the seed to table progression.
• The Minnesota Twins community fund provided renovation of baseball fields at Bayview.
• Mechanical changes to buses allow idle time to be addressed, thus saving fuel.
• Elementary composting program was expanded to both elementary schools, reducing waste by one dumpster headed for the landfill per week An initial plan to expand the composting to the middle school and high school is being studied.
All of these include a depth and breadth of partnership and collaboration with other government agencies, nonprofits, and community members.
The federal government makes the national announcement to coincide with Earth Day, which is on Tuesday, April 22 this year. Whether or not we are selected as a national winner, our community can be proud of the efforts in our schools to protect our community’s natural resources for future generations.