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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Cape May County Students Make Strides in Sustainability


PETERSBURG -- Students at Upper Township Middle School in Petersburg are thinking about the future - theirs and their schools. Classes are taking on eco-projects to make their school more environmentally friendly and a better place to learn.

Upper Township Middle School participates in National Wildlife Federation’s Eco-Schools USA program. This internationally acclaimed program which provides free resources and support to schools working towards sustainability has been gaining in popularity in the Garden State. The program, in just one year, has grown from 43 to 114 schools in New Jersey.

Through the program, Upper Township Middle School is taking lessons beyond classroom walls to engage in project based learning. Students have been transplanting native shrubs around the schools and planting pollinator gardens to increase biodiversity, creating rain gardens to conserve water and maintaining trails on the school property for outdoor learning. The school has also been focusing on reducing waste by composting food waste from the cafeteria for use in the school garden which grows carrots, peas, kale, tomatoes and onions that students share with classmates and parents to encourage healthy eating.

Teacher, Paul Ludgate says, “The Eco-schools program benefits our school by offering teachers suggested pathways to successfully address ecological topics with their students. Our students have developed spaces for outdoor classrooms - courtyards planted with native shrubs and small trees, trails that lead to vernal streams, pink lady slipper orchids, raised bed gardens, and a beach plum orchard. They are drawn to the beauty of the gardens. Hands-on learning is a very effective method of instruction and all learners can benefit from the aesthetic and practical enhancements of these newly imagined learning spaces.”

Once registered, Eco-Schools can earn awards that recognize their progress towards any of ten sustainability pathways laid out by the program including energy and water conservation, sustainable foods and reducing consumption and waste. Eco-Schools awards provide excellent opportunities for schools to share their efforts with the community and to improve student learning.

“Through Eco-Schools USA, we help educators create authentic learning experiences for students that will resonate with them far beyond the classroom. We know it’s working when we see how excited students get about science and math as these topics comes to life in their environment.” says Jennifer Dowd, Eco-Schools NJ Coordinator, New Jersey Audubon.

Students who are exposed to programs such as Eco-Schools that incorporate good STEM education see the world in a holistic way, gain skills in the process of inquiry, and become better problem-solvers and inventors who can utilize their knowledge of math, science and technology to design and engineer innovative solutions.

Curtis Fisher, northeast regional executive director, National Wildlife Federation says, “Eco-Schools USA gets students excited about science, math, and art and demonstrates how they can use these skills to make their schools better places to learn and their world a better place to live. Thanks to support from PSE&G, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the Horizon Foundation, and Spencer Savings Bank we now have a staff person on the ground to support our schools and help them reach their goals.”

Upper Township Middle School and other Cape May County schools have the distinct advantage being located near three New Jersey Audubon sites in the county; including two Cape May Bird Observatories and the Nature Center of Cape May which specializes in working with children, families, and schools. The center provides outreach programs at local schools or field trip experiences at the center and in other natural habitats throughout the county. Cape May County boasts two more Eco-Schools including; Ocean City’s Intermediate School, and the Richard M. Teitelman Middle School in Cape May.

About Eco-Schools:

Eco-Schools is an international program in 58 countries. The program is hosted by the National Wildlife Federation in the United States and coordinated by New Jersey Audubon in New Jersey. Eco-Schools USA helps schools to integrate sustainability principles for increased student achievement, financial savings and healthier environments. The program provides free guidance, resources, and support for individual schools and districts. Eco-Schools USA in New Jersey directly supports the Sustainable Jersey for Schools point-based system. For more information: www.eco-schoolsusa.org

About National Wildlife Federation:

National Wildlife Federation is America’s largest conservation organization inspiring people to protect wildlife for our children’s future. NWF focuses its education and policy work on connecting children to nature for a nation of happier, healthier kids. NWF’s state affiliate is NJ Audubon. For more information: www.nwf.org.

About NJ Audubon and the Nature Center of Cape May:

The New Jersey Audubon Society is a privately supported, not-for profit, statewide membership organization that fosters environmental awareness and a conservation ethic among New Jersey's citizens; protects New Jersey's birds, mammals, other animals, and plants, especially endangered and threatened species; and promotes preservation of New Jersey's valuable natural habitats. For more information, visit: www.njaudubon.org. Schools interested in participating in the Nature Center of Cape May programs should contact Gretchen Whitman at: gretchen.whitman@njaudubon.org or by phone at 609-898-8848.

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