Education Secretary honors two Long Beach schools for environmental initiatives

Holland Brown, parent volunteer at Lowell Elementary, Ellen Ryan, principal at Mark Twain Elementary, Karen Taylor, parent volunteer at Lowell Elementary, and Lisa McCarthy, parent volunteer at Mark Twain Elementary. The two Long Beach schools were honored by the Department of Education for their green initiatives.
Holland Brown, parent volunteer at Lowell Elementary, Ellen Ryan, principal at Mark Twain Elementary, Karen Taylor, parent volunteer at Lowell Elementary, and Lisa McCarthy, parent volunteer at Mark Twain Elementary. The two Long Beach schools were honored by the Department of Education for their green initiatives. Kitty Felde/KPCC

Where are the greenest schools in America? Two of them are in Long Beach.

For the past five years, the U.S.  Department of Education has been trying to "inspire" schools to reduce their environmental impact and costs, improve the health and wellness of students and staff, and teach environmental skills. This year, Education Secretary Arne Duncan honored two Long Beach elementary schools with the Green Ribbon School Award.

Parent, Lisa McCarthy was in the nation's capital Wednesday to attend the ceremony. She got involved by volunteering at her kids’ school, Mark Twain Elementary. She says at lunchtime, she was "shocked to find all the trash from lunch went into one trash can!" She got parents, teachers and the principal to start a recycling program, reducing the school’s trash almost immediately by 85 percent. That led to a Green Team Club and a garden. Money from the crops is used for playground equipment.

Another parent, Holland Brown, had kids at Lowell Elementary. She started a garden there, "and it kind of blossomed, so to speak." Lowell is now irrigated entirely by reclaimed water. They've also instituted a zero waste lunch program and have formal "walk to school" days. And that garden? Brown says Lowell students now spend eight thousand instructional hours there, with lessons tied to the core curriculum taught inside the classroom. 

The hardest part, she says, was the "horrible" application process to be in the running for the award. The two Long Beach schools were among the 57 schools and districts from more than two dozen states honored for reducing their environmental impact, improving health, and teaching sustainability. The parents say the challenge going forward for the two schools will be to keep the green teams going once their own kids graduate. 

Mark Twain Elementary's principal, Ellen Ryan, says she felt kind of "funny" at the reception. "I was really happy that we were being honored," she says, "but it saddened me because I didn’t think that we should be an exception." 

The schools were nominated by their state departments of education. Twenty states did not nominate anyone. 

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