Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Elementary school students leave school to make a difference in the world

Elementary school teachers Pauline  Roberts and Rick Joseph know that the best place to make a real-world difference is, well, in the world.  So when their students set out to do just that, they let them.  


Their students wanted to tackle the issue of sustainability and their strategy was to educate and encourage businesses in the community to be a part of the solution.  To do that students learned what businesses could do to be sustainable and created brochures that included concrete advice in a variety of categories such as using energy efficient lightbulbs, using motion censors, unplugging devices when not in use, adjusting work schedules for efficient utility use, using recycled paper, implementing policies that require less mobile vehicle use such as telecommuting and carpooling, using web conferences rather than traveling for f2f meetings, and more.
The students then formed groups of about three and selected local area businesses to target and educate. Each group of students took it upon themselves to do this work.  They found a chaperone, got parental permission, made appointments with each business, and then met with business designees to discuss sustainability strategies and scheduled follow up to access progress.    

To help increase community awareness the students also organized a green day where they went out into the community to explain to even more citizens and businesses how the campaign works and how businesses can earn their green thumbs to designate them as leaders in sustainability.  They also posted flyers to inform community members about the project and about what it meant to be a green business and community.  


The students didn’t stop there.  They realized that even though they met with businesses and informed them of sustainable practices, they might need an incentive as well as something to hold them accountable to incorporating these practices.  They decided that they would grant businesses who were engaged in sustainable practices with a green thumb that states they are sustainability leaders in their community.  The green thumbs would be placed in business windows as well as on an online honor roll which people could visit to see where businesses landed on the sustainability scale that correlated with the number of practices they incorporated.


As the campaign went on community members began recognizing those companies who were most sustainable.  Before you knew it there was a culture of out-greening each other in the community. Those that were not green are noticed. One company indeed did contact the teachers because the head of marketing was unhappy at their less than stellar sustainability rating.  They wanted their public rating removed. The phone was handed over to the student in charge of ratings who explained that ratings were not given, they were earned, and this ratings would remain public.  


As a result of their work, not only did these students learn remarkable amount about traditional subjects like writing, research, and science, but the community has been forever transformed. Businesses are now incentivized to be green and being held accountable by knowledgeable youth and the community awareness has risen to unprecedented levels.  


The work of these students and teachers exemplifies the very best of innovative learning and teaching practices which were outlined at Microsoft’s Partners in Learning Global Forum.  So much so, that this project was recognized with a first place award at the Global Forum Gala event.
To learn more about Doing Business in Birmingham, visit DoingBusinessInBirmingham.wikis.Birmingham.k12.mi.us.
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