MEDIA RELEASE: MDI and Camden Hills High Schools Named Green Ribbon Schools by U.S. DOE

Green Ribbon Schools are honored for reducing environmental impact and costs, improving health and wellness, and offering effective sustainability education.

The U.S. Department of Education today released the names of the 2020 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools, District Sustainability Awardees, and Postsecondary Sustainability Awardees.  Camden Hills Regional High School in Rockport and Mount Desert Island High School in Bar Harbor are among the 2020 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS).

Camden Hills Regional High School and Mount Desert Island High School were nominated by the Maine Department of Education based on their accomplishments in the three pillars of the ED-GRS program: 1) reducing environmental impacts, such as waste, water, energy, greenhouse gases, and transportation in the areas of facilities, grounds, and operations; 2) improving health and wellness through coordinated school health, with consideration to air quality, contaminant control, acoustics, daylighting, thermal comfort, school nutrition, and outdoors physical activity; and 3) offering effective environmental and sustainability education that emphasizes hands-on, real-world learning, civic engagement, STEM connections, and green career preparation.

“With a deep appreciation for the beautiful natural resources of our great state, environmental sustainability and reducing our carbon footprint are priorities of Governor Mills and her administration, including the Department of Education,” said Maine Department of Education Commissioner Pender Makin. “Our schools are leading the way by providing their students with opportunities for environmental education and innovation. These students will be the future leaders and stewards of our planet, and are learning about their role, responsibilities and impact as global citizens.”

Camden Hills Regional High School (CHRHS) is a public high school located in coastal Rockport, Maine, serving 720 students in grades 9 through 12. CHRHS policies, budgeting, and its people all focus on ensuring systems that will promote and support healthy students, a healthy school, and a healthy planet. Over 77 percent of teachers incorporate sustainability education in courses.

A student sustainability group, Windplanners, with overwhelming support from district administration and the community, has worked to reduce the environmental impact of the school. Their initiatives include a major study and capital campaign to install the 100-kw wind turbine, working through one of the first power purchase agreements for high school installations in the state for a 159-kw solar array. These two installations provide 30 percent of electricity needs from on-site renewables. Working with the facilities director, students helped initiate several energy-efficiency projects that have reduced demand by another 20 percent.

CHRHS’ newest initiative involves several staff members and the Windplanners in building an organic waste management system. CHRHS installed a terraced garden on some marginal land that was considered a mowing hazard. Each year, the school designs and plants the school garden with the goal of the harvest maturing when school begins in the fall. The school is also home to an orchard and asparagus patch that produce when school is in session. Both of these initiatives have been focused on helping increase the amount of local produce that supplies the school cafeteria. Whenever possible food is locally sourced, or even comes from the school garden.

Students have access to people and resources that support their emotional growth and well-being. Camden Hills actively works to create a safe and open space for its students. The library has become a wellness area providing resources like massage chairs, therapy dogs, animal cams to view nature in action, adult coloring pages, and board games. A nature trails follows the circumference of the CHRHS campus and allows students and staff to go on walks and enjoy the beautiful woods on the campus while unplugging from the stress of school and getting exercise.

Mount Desert Island High School (MDIHS) is a rural public high school in Maine that draws 542 students from 10 K–8 schools in and around the Mt. Desert/Bar Harbor. Green and sustainability efforts are supported by school and district administrators, school board members, the school’s Environmental Concerns (Eco) team, teachers across departments, and staff, including counselors, custodians, and cafeteria staff. There is widely shared interest in the health and wellness of students and staff, support for educational experiences that prepare students to be active informed citizens interested in the changing world, and an increasing emphasis on environmental sustainability.

Decisions for the past decade have been made with environmental health and efficiency in mind. Most obvious are the 1400+ solar panels on the roof of the high school. MDI High School was the first high school in Maine to generate all of its electricity needs from on-site solar in the fall of 2019. Soon, everyone will be able to see the new electric bus parked outside with its diesel counterparts. There is an electric vehicle charging station in the parking lot for staff and students to use.

In 2011, energy efficient boilers were installed when replacement of the old boilers was necessary. Two years ago, the school completed a conversion to LED lights inside school and LED “night-sky” compliant lighting in parking areas. Composting in the cafeteria started at the end of 2018–19. The school contracted with Agri-Cycle to efficiently convert food waste into electricity, fuel, fertilizer, and other beneficial products. Cafeteria staff participated in the Smarter Lunchroom program to learn additional ways to cut down on food waste. During the building renovation in 2017, filtered water bottle filling stations were installed throughout the school to reduce plastic waste and promote hydration.

An active staff wellness program is led by two teachers who challenge their colleagues each month to improve their physical and mental health through water challenges, movement challenges, morale boosters, and other activities. For many years, the nurse at MDI High School coordinated a small Wellness Fair once a year for high school staff. This has turned into a districtwide biennial Health and Wellness Professional half day held at MDIHS in March to build community, emphasize wellness, and help staff relax and rejuvenate.

During the 2019–20 school year, more than 50 percent of MDIHS students will be in at least one course that includes a focus on climate change, human impacts on the environment, and/or proposing and designing solutions for problems they identify and research.

Across the country, 39 schools, 11 districts, and five postsecondary institutions are being honored for their innovative efforts to reduce environmental impact and utility costs, improve health and wellness, and ensure effective sustainability education.
The honorees were named from a pool of candidates nominated by 27 states. The selectees include 28 public schools, including three magnet schools and four charter schools, as well as 11 nonpublic schools. Forty-five percent of the 2020 honorees serve a disadvantaged student body.

The list of all selected schools, districts, colleges, and universities, as well as their nomination packages, can be found here. A report with highlights on the 55 honorees can be found here. More information on the federal recognition award can be found here. Resources for all schools to move toward the three Pillars can be found here.