The Benefits of Being Green

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Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 2.38.00 PMCecily Stock is the Head of School at San Domenico School, a coeducational, Pre-K-12 day and boarding school in Marin County, California. Cecily holds a master’s degree in clinical psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology, and a law degree from University of California at Davis. During her time at San Domenico, Cecily has served as a learning specialist, academic dean, and middle school division head, before becoming Head of School. San Domenico has been recognized for its leading edge programs in performing arts, technology, and sustainability. In 2011, San Domenico was one of the first schools in the San Francisco bay area to adopt a Digital-Citizenship focused, 1:1 iPad program, and Cecily is one of the educators featured in the Common Sense Media video series, “1-to-1 Essentials”  Cecily is also passionate about promoting environmental sustainability in schools and is proud that San Domenico was recognized this year with a U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Award for Excellence in Sustainability.

This year our school was one of handful of boarding schools recognized as a U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School for Excellence in Sustainability. At San Domenico, we are fortunate to be situated on a 515-acre beautiful campus, surrounded by nature. And while the environment is certainly conducive to operating sustainably, we know from experience that it takes a conscious effort – and resources – to successfully integrate green practices into any school. The good news is that it is possible and the hard work pays off.

Some best practices to keep in mind:

Think big, start small. Easier said than done when the school year is upon us and there are so many daily demands to attend to. Whether the idea comes from the head-of-school or somewhere within the school community, it is important to have a committed leader and a strategic vision for what is possible on your campus.

Inspired by the Dominican value of stewardship, our mission and vision for sustainability began 20 years ago when we received a grant to build a one-acre organic garden on our campus. At that time, we began a focused effort to incorporate sustainable practices into the operations and curriculum of our school. Working together with a local, renowned ecological architect, our team got to work on designing and building what is now the heart and soul of our sustainability program.

Today, our focus on environmental education and engagement is at the core of who we are and what we do. Our Garden of Hope is not only an outdoor classroom and celebration space for our students, but it has become a model for the community. By growing, harvesting and cooking our own organic food in the garden, tending to the various animals we have, and minimizing landfill waste with a robust composting and water recycling program, we are demonstrating the full cycle of life to our students, grades Pre-K to 12.

Building on the vision, passion and commitment to continue what was started years ago, we are proud to have been awarded the prestigious 2014 Green Ribbon Schools award for Excellence in Sustainability from the US Department of Education. As the only school in Northern California to be honored this year and the first in Marin County, that acknowledgement has been a wonderful reward for our students and staff, and has enhanced our admissions and recruiting efforts significantly. Indeed, we are hearing from families coming to tour specifically because of what they have heard about our sustainability program.

Allocate the right resources. While the help of community volunteers and students on committees is always appreciated, to ensure your vision becomes reality requires dedicated, paid staff. We realized early on that, for this program to thrive, we had to allocate the right resources. At San Domenico, we have been fortunate to have a remarkable Sustainability Director who joined our faculty more than seven years ago. Her combined expertise as an environmentalist and an educator have proven to be the perfect fit to help us continue to evolve our program and keep our students excited and involved.

In addition to staffing, we budget for sustainability costs knowing the investment pays off. As an example, we have the largest solar installation of any school in our County of Marin. With more than 2,000 solar panels, we are able to reduce emissions by 860,000 lbs. per year and offset up to 65 percent of our energy use. From our experience, all operational costs – large and small – should be part of a larger strategy and planned for.

Engage your students. Often the most important ideas are also the most obvious.

On a Pre-K to 12 campus, we never could have imagined how engaged our entire student body would become in our sustainability efforts. It is a sight to behold watching 5-year olds learning, cooking and working in our garden alongside high school students. By integrating sustainability practices into everything we do on campus, being ‘green’ has become intuitive for our students. It is core to the sense of community our students, parents, faculty, and staff feel about San Domenico. Our entire community has taken ownership of the program in amazing ways, including support of our alternative transportation program, getting their hands dirty in areas like composting, and the coordination of a Green Team that encourages student participation at all grade levels.

As we continue to experiment, learn and grow from our commitment to sustainability, we know that the rewards extend far beyond our campus. We are even hearing from alumni around the world who tell us of their efforts to take what they’ve learned here and apply it to their workplaces, their homes and their families. San Domenico alum, Satomi Hoffman 90′, a Broadway actor currently in the cast of Phantom of the Opera, is one of the Green Captains in the Broadway Green Alliance, an organization dedicated to making Broadway theater productions more environmentally responsible.

It’s this sort of return on investment that reminds us of the most meaningful benefits of being a “green” school.

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