CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Spend a few minutes with Diana Shell and it is clear to see she is one of those teachers that you never forget. She teaches chemistry and environmental science and is quick to point out, "Environmental studies doesn't just include going out and cleaning up a swamp."
She teaches her students about energy use, water use, recycling and more. Shell says, "For some students, it sparks an interest in them that wasn't there before."
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg School board adopted an Environmental Stewardship policy in 2008. The goal is to reduce utility consumption by 20%, solid waste by 5% and pollutants by 20% by 2014. This June, buy-in was achieved with 100% of CMS schools. On the to-do list: soon-to-be-built Pineville Elementary will be LEED certified. The district's fleet will be studied to see how it impacts the region's air quality. And a unique outdoor classroom complete with solar panels, a weather station and a greenhouse will soon be built in a grassy area at South Mecklenburg High School.
"Even with hard economic times, we have all of these businesses that believe so much in our student's education and the future of environmental studies that they've donated their time, they've donated resources," says Shell.
Going green will reduce CMS' environmental footprint and improve the health of the community. CMS says it also saves tax payer dollars. "We've already realized a savings in excess of $5 million in terms of energy use avoidance through our energy conservation program," says Brian Kasher. He manages environmental health and safety for CMS. Kasher says the district has also saved $100,000 in landfill fees because of recycling.
For example, CMS consumes 23.5 million milk and juice cartons each year. Now, the cartons are recyclable and that means CMS doesn't have to pay to throw them in a landfill. Kasher says, "It's good for the bottom line."
South Meck student Liza Veilleux says, "It just is amazing to me a little thing you can change about your life, your habits can make such a huge impact." Liza, Emily Baldrige and Kyle Fabian are seniors at South Meck. Fabian says, "Once you teach the kids, it stays with them forever."
As part of class projects, they've audited their high school's energy use and those audits have contributed to the district's policy. It's work that is engaging the students as stakeholders and helping to shape their futures. "It kind of reinforces it in our heads that it's not just something that teachers are telling kids, but something that's really important to change about your lifestyle," says Baldrige.
For Shell, the district's emphasis on the environment is crucial to ensure that by the time her students enter the real world, they're able to use habits they learned inside her classroom. She says, "If we're gonna make any change, we've got to start with the kids."
Not only are the students learning new habits when it comes to the environment. Many, including Baldrige and Fabian, are considering careers in the science field.