2011 Bethesda Magazine Green Awards in partnership with Bethesda Green
Category: Communities (neighborhoods, schools, condo associations, faith-based organizations, etc.) that are promoting and implementing green practices
For 9-year-old Mark Williams, studying environmental issues at the Bullis School in Potomac has meant that life will never be the same for him—or his family.
Last year, Mark and fellow third-graders planted potatoes, salad greens and peanuts in the school’s community garden. They role-played as 19th-century naturalists during an outing to Locust Grove Nature Center in Cabin John Regional Park. They studied the perils facing migratory birds and used recycled water bottles and other “trash” in art classes.
After school, Mark went home determined to make a difference. He enlisted his mother, Joyce, and his grandparents. They started by changing the lightbulbs in their Gaithersburg home to compact fluorescents that last longer and use less energy. They pledged to stop running the dishwasher when it was only half full, and increased their recycling efforts.
They started shopping at farmers’ markets to support local agriculture. They switched to all-natural household cleaners, which unexpectedly reduced the frequency and severity of Mark’s allergy attacks. Mark and his grandmother planted flower beds and plan to add a vegetable patch next spring. His grandmother even devised a way to capture rainwater collecting on the backyard pool cover and funnel it into rain barrels for the garden.
“It’s literally changed our lives,” Joyce Williams says. “It’s amazing how children can do that.”
Carolyn Cohen, Mark’s teacher last year, says it’s rewarding to see children taking on environmental issues that have long daunted their elders. “If you can start them young enough and build on that, maybe we can make a difference on our Earth,” she says.
Bullis, a private co-ed school for grades 3-12, has been building on an environmental ethos since its founding in 1930, says Head of School Gerald Boarman. Middle school teacher Rita Gerharz says her classes discuss how food is produced and the environmental costs. And, she says Bullis students have led the charge in the Day School Green Challenge, a competition each April among private schools that rewards recycling and the reduction of energy consumption.
In addition to bringing environmental matters into the classroom, the school has partnered with Washington Gas Energy Services to add solar panels to the roof of its Blair Family Center for the Arts. The 540 panels produce about 20 percent of the building’s energy needs. The campus has purchased wind and solar electricity for several years, but the solar array has deepened its commitment to clean energy, Boarman says. It also helped propel Bullis into fourth place in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Power Partnership, which recognizes schools nationwide that use renewable energy.
“It’s engrained in our culture. It’s engrained in our curriculum. It’s what we do,” Boarman says of the school’s green principles.