Saving the Planet, One Student at a Time

Sustainability embraces many disciplines and directions. At Woodward Academy, it's about more than reuse and recycling. Our students are learning about climate change, clean urban design, water pollution and its accompanying environmental degradation, and the challenges of sourcing healthy food in urban areas. Woodward students are getting their hands dirty - going out into the community to clean up a local stream on Green Apple Day of Service and to work on an urban farm. And Woodward is working toward offering a diploma distinction in sustainability.

Two of the school's sustainability leaders are Upper School science teachers Monica Kuhlman and Jessica Hubbard, who shared some background and philosophies on how Woodward is educating a new generation to apply their skills, passion, and scientific aptitudes to saving the planet.

Tell us more about Green Apple Day of Service activities and what students took from the experience.

The Green Apple Day of Service is a national day of service sponsored by the U.S. Green Building Council and is meant as a way to improve our school environments through service projects, education, and community events. This year the Upper School engaged in three different projects which included a trash pick up near a tributary to the Flint River, an upcycling craft fair with the Main Street Academy, and planting seeds in our greenhouse in an effort to start seedlings for transplanting at the Urban Farm and at Woodward Academy.

The students took a greater interest in their local community by spending their time off campus in the neighborhoods surrounding our campus. They were left with a sense of pride for providing service in commonly overlooked or underserved areas. They also became more aware of their behavior and more observant of their community as a whole.

Can you fill us in on the urban farm planting and what students learned that day?

Several Upper School students are interested in urban farming and giving back to the local community. It was their idea to engage in growing fresh produce for local shelters. As they know, the majority of produce available at food pantries is canned, so they came up with a plan to start a garden at the local Metro Atlanta Urban Farm here in College Park and donate their harvest to a food shelter. Students spent their day working with volunteers and employees cleaning out their plot, learning how to stake out a proper garden, and sowing seeds for the fall/winter season. They had the opportunity to meet College Park locals who explained to them why urban farming was important to their personal lives and gain a better understanding of how urban farms are based and the importance of having them in our local communities.

What is on the horizon for student activities around our community?

There are many activities planned to engage our students in the wider community. For example, Ms. Hubbard continues to build a strong relationship with the Metro Atlanta Urban Farm, volunteering alongside SCRIPPS Network Interactive, and working with Buzzy, Inc., in support of the urban farm and greenhouse at Woodward Academy Ms. Kuhlman recently began a service unit designed to learn more about the massive flooding that took place in Baton Rouge in summer 2016. Additionally, students have been engaged around the community by volunteering with Trees Atlanta and Cochran Mill Nature Center. Students also have the opportunity to attend frequent lunch and learns on topics ranging from anti-poaching efforts in Zambia to engaging with local environmental leaders in the Atlanta area. Ms. Kuhlman is also working in her classes to develop a robust curriculum that supports Woodward Academy's relationship with our sister school, Terranova, in Mazabuka, Zambia with a special focus on poverty, access to quality healthcare, and the education of women.

Last summer students took a trip to Germany that had an environmental education component. Can you tell us about that?

A group of 12 students took a 12-day trip to Germany with Ms. Kuhlman and German teacher Ben Shivers. Students were asked to engage in conversation and observation about energy usage and waste management and transportation in Germany and compare and contrast their systems with systems in the United States. From personalized tours with a local sustainability guide, to biking through Munich, to exclusively using public transportation, students were given an insider's perspective into what sustainability looks like in what is considered the most sustainable country in the world.

As teachers, what are your thoughts on why sustainability education is important? What are its larger implications?

Sustainability isn't just about recycling, it's a mindset where it becomes second nature to think about how your actions today will affect someone else tomorrow. By teaching people how to consciously and deliberately use their resources with the future in mind, we learn to live beyond ourselves through actions and behaviors. Sustainability is a worldwide effort that is an important topic for our leaders today. Beyond environmental protection, sustainability also includes economic and social development. It is an inclusive effort from all people, and ultimately starts with educating people around us on what sustainability is and how they can do their part.

Woodward is working toward a diploma distinction in sustainability. What might that look like and why would it benefit graduates in the world beyond Woodward?

A diploma distinction in sustainability is currently under development. A group of administrators, teachers, and students are engaged in various data collecting activities to determine sustainability goals for each of the schools, with the goal of offering a "Distinction in Sustainability" to graduating students. A distinction may include completion of coursework that leads toward environmental literacy, service learning and community engagement with a sustainability component or focus, an immersive experience and a capstone project. Environmental concerns are foremost in people's minds, in our politics and in the media. By equipping our students with a "sustainability mindset," students become unique and innovative thinkers as they search for meaningful solutions to real-life problems. They develop empathy with the world around them while gaining greater problem-solving abilities, greater creativity in solution-seeking, and confidence in tackling new challenges. Only by equipping our students with these tools can we hope to overcome the problems we face.