SCH lower school students hold up their newly awarded Green Flag. Behind them are, from left, Ellen Kruger, science teacher and chair of the SCH Green Task Force, Stephen Druggan, Head of School, and Holly Shields, NWF Regional Education Manager of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Center. (Photo by Brendan Sample)

by Brendan Sample

Adding to an extensive list of awards won for its environmental efforts, Springside Chestnut Hill Academy has received the highest international honor possible in the National Wildlife Federation’s Green Flag competition.

During an assembly at SCH on Nov. 7, Holly Shields, the regional education manager for the NWF’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Center, was on hand to present the administration with the award.

As the largest private and nonprofit conservation organization in the country, the NWF recognizes schools around the world for various sustainability efforts as part of its Eco-Schools program. With over 4,800 Eco-Schools in the United States alone, the Green Flag is the highest level at which a school can be recognized, with only 135 others in the country receiving the award. SCH is now the first independent school in Pennsylvania and third in the state overall to be awarded the Green Flag.

During the assembly, most of the attendance consisted of the entirety of SCH’s Lower School students (grades kindergarten through fourth, and fifth-grade boys). As part of the presentation, some of the students presented on projects they worked on that involved various ways to be environmentally friendly. The presentations ranged from explaining how to make pancakes by gathering acorns and a short play involving a girl on trial for using too much water.

Given the school’s close proximity to the Wissahickon Creek, being environmentally conscious is something that has been ingrained in SCH’s culture for years. In addition to getting the NWF Bronze and Silver awards that precede the Green Flag, SCH was also recognized as a Green Ribbon School in 2012 by the U.S. Department of Education for its environmentally friendly practices, both in and out of the classroom. In addition, the school also received a three-star certification from the Green Restaurant Association in 2015 for sustainability in its food services.

“Part of the ethos of the school has always been to be mindful of the extraordinary landscape where the school is set,” said Maryann Boyer, a former SCH science teacher and current sustainability consultant. “Teachers and staff have always used the Wissahickon watershed as a classroom, so many of the sustainability efforts felt natural and were initiated with small steps.”

Throughout both the Willow Grove and Cherokee campuses, SCH’s many environmental measures are on full display for anyone to see. Some of those included water bottle filling stations at every fountain, permeable asphalt in the parking lots to soak up rainwater and prevent flooding, notices on recycling cans to indicate which materials can be recycled and an updated printing system that send documents to a single cloud service and requires swiping a school ID at a printer to retrieve the needed document. The latter method cuts down on extra pages printing accidentally, while also defaulting all pages to both black-and-white and double-sided.

The cafeterias are further showcases for SCH’s updated conservation efforts. All waste is sorted by compost, recycling and landfill, with clear indicators to show students what goes in which disposal container. There are no disposable bottles used in any capacity, and all dishes and utensils are reusable. The school is still working to remove all plastic in both cafeterias.

SCH’s initiatives have certainly impressed a number of environmental institutions across the country, as evidenced by the school’s numerous awards. This sentiment was especially shared by Shields, who has worked with schools from New York to Virginia, all part of the Mid-Atlantic Region. Currently based in Annapolis, Md., Shields has worked with a large number of various schools across her region, but still felt that SCH stood out in a memorable way.

“Outside of occasional district meetings with multiple schools, my job usually involves me only making school trips like this to present Green Flags,” Shields said. “SCH staff and students are doing incredible work, and it was really obvious that being a green school is part of the culture.”

Looking ahead, SCH will need to continue its environmental upkeep, as the Green Flag needs to be renewed every two years in order to remain with the school. In addition, the Eco-Schools program has 12 total pathways that schools can complete, and with three already finished, SCH is looking to begin tackling the remaining nine. The school has already completed the pathways for Healthy Living, Water Conservation and Energy, with LEAF (Learning About Forests) and Solid Waste Management next on its radar.