Vineland High School and Bridgeton Public Charter School both earned bronze Eco-Schools USA awards last month. With guidance and support provided by New Jersey Audubon, they are two of the latest award winners in South Jersey.
Vineland High School’s AP Environmental science students, led by teacher Michelle Villar, tackled the Learning About Forests (LEAF) pathway. They studied a forest plot next to their school by conducting soil tests, identifying plants and animals, and calculating the mass of trees. They researched the natural and cultural history of the area and invited a retired forester into the classroom to share his knowledge and experience. Based on their findings they devised actions to enhance the forest. Actions included a community-based trash cleanup as well as invasive species removal (lots of English Ivy!) and the planting of natives. Throughout the process students monitored the biodiversity of the forest using pitfall traps and observations and shared their findings with the rest of the school. Additionally, they calculated the economic and environmental value of the forest, determining how much carbon dioxide the trees sequester. Thanks to their efforts, the forest is healthier, and their classmates are more aware of its importance. Vineland High School is the first school in the state to earn award for the LEAF pathway.
Bridgeton Public Charter School focused on the Sustainable Foods pathway. It was a school-wide effort led by Principal Dr. Valerie James-Kemp and School Nurse Maryanne McCarthy. Students conducted an audit of the school’s food system, evaluated potential garden sites and created an action plan. With the help of generous donations from community partners, the school now has a beautiful vegetable garden on its grounds. Students raised plants from seeds, planted them in the garden, and continue to share responsibilities of tending to the plants. They painted rocks to decorate the garden space and used their harvest to create healthy treats (and educational presentations) to share with each other. Additionally, they began composting food scraps from lunch to use as fertilizer, cutting down on the amount of food waste produced each day.
The Eco-Schools USA program empowers students to take action toward a more sustainable future. Thanks to the PSEG Foundation and others, NJ Audubon is proud to host this free program available to all schools in New Jersey. Learn more and register at www.eco-schoolsusa.org.