The Athenian School's commitment towards environmental stewardship has earned the private school the U.S. Department of Education's green ribbon school award, which was instituted in September 2011.
"This is excellent news and a tribute to years of effort by the students and adults at Athenian," said Athenian Head of School Eric Niles. "We are proof that a commitment to the environment enhances education, is the ethical choice for a school to make, and creates measurable cost-saving benefits as well."
Honored schools exercise a comprehensive approach to creating "green" environments by reducing environmental impact, promoting health and ensuring a high-quality environmental and outdoor education to prepare students with 21st century skills and sustainability concepts. Athenian has installed solar arrays that provide 70 percent of the school's power and has student-led efforts to save energy, reduce waste and increase green initiatives.
Nearly all of the 472 students are involved with eco-friendly projects, including converting a gas-engine Honda into an electric car, creating biodiesel in science labs, reducing water use through sustainable agriculture techniques and improving rain catchment. An environmental science class recently created a bio-swale project to redesign an area of the campus that led to flooding with native plants.
Environmental stewardship and sustainability concepts are integrated throughout the Athenian curriculum. Seventh graders put in a "sensory garden" to connect to their literature class while ninth graders handle the school's recycling program as part of their community service requirement. This year's senior gift of fruit trees will help kick start an orchard project using the runoff water from the baseball field as irrigation.
Furthering the school's commitment to environmental literacy, the junior class spends 26 days in either Death Valley or the High Sierras, where students gain an appreciation of the wilderness and an understanding of the importance of regenerative ecosystems. Athenian also offers a summer permaculture course for students and adults.
Almost 60 percent of the school's hauled waste is recycled and no green waste leaves the campus due to the composting program. Athenian's carbon footprint has been radically reduced in the last six years: non-renewable electrical power usage has been reduced by 60 percent, water consumption is down 25 percent, waste haulage costs are down 45 percent and natural gas consumption has been decreased by 40 percent.
Additionally, Athenian is an EPA green power partner, a founding member of the Green School's Alliance and is certified as a green business by the Contra Costa green business program. The school has already received several environmental awards, including the waste reduction award from the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, and was recently the only school named as a finalist in the Acterra sustainable business awards.
The 78 green ribbon schools were picked from nearly 100 nominees submitted by 30 state education agencies, the District of Columbia and the Bureau of Indian Education. More than 350 schools completed applications to their state education agencies. Among the list of winners are 66 public schools including eight charters and 12 private schools.
Winners will be invited to a recognition ceremony in Washington, D.C. on June 3.