Sustainability at Park

One of our goals at Park is to effect change and to excite our students to take on the challenges of our time, including the stewardship of our planet. Park School's longstanding commitment to personal and community action, rigorous academic investigation, and creative problem-solving provides an ideal framework in which to explore and realize solutions to even the most complex issues. In the selection of programs and activities below, you will see the real and important work our students are doing to understand and promote sustainability.

As an institution, we are keenly aware of both the environmental and financial benefits of sustainability initiatives. Our solar panels on our Lower School roof generate clean energy and reduce our electricity expenses. Recently-installed motion sensors ensure that lights throughout our buildings are used only when needed. Designated "no mow" areas surrounding our pond and woodlands allow for beneficial flora to play their role in the ecosystem, provide habitat for insect and animal life, and reduce our landscaping maintenance expenses and energy usage. These are but a few of the efforts to reduce our environmental impact and our expenses.

We are continually inspired by our thoughtful student body to consider new approaches that can make a genuine positive impact on our community (case in point, the Green Parking Spaces initiative from the spring of 2012 featured below) and look forward to each grade level's amazing contributions all year long.

Sample Programs & Activities

(Excerpted from Park News, April 2012)

Fourth Graders Help Us Reduce Our Waste

Every Thursday at lunch time, an energetic group of fourth grade students gather to work toward reducing the lunch time trash produced at The Park School. Small groups of students have explored how to help the community make better use of non-trash options such as compost, recycling, and Terracycle. Other groups have worked on ideas for how to inform the community and improve the way children and adults sort their waste, particularly in the cafeteria. Still more groups have been considering ways to reduce what we use so as to create less that needs to be sorted.

What can we all do to help? Each of us can sort our own waste and take advantage of opportunities to keep compostable, recyclable, and terracyclable items from heading to landfills. Students should look for helpful, updated posters soon to be hung in the cafeteria.

What goes into each bin?
Terracycle: juice pouches and energy bar wrappers (empty tape spools, markers, and cell phones can all be collected, as well; please bring them to Ms. Hoitsma's third grade room)
Recycling: any and all items with a recycling triangle embossed on the plastic, aluminum cans, tin foil, glass bottles. (Paper also gets recycled at Park, but in a separate bin.)
Compost: any and all food items, paper plates, paper napkins, paper juice boxes, paper straw wrappers
Trash: plastic utensils, straws, plastic wrap, chip bags, many drink lids – a whole lot less than it used to be!

(In the cafeteria, students can also find a bin for pop tabs, which the fourth graders are collecting to send off to support the Ronald McDonald House.)

Sustainability in the Lives of Middle Schoolers

The Middle School incorporates issues of sustainability and environmental awareness into the curriculum in a number of ways within – and outside – the science classroom. Eighth graders choose to study the lives of activists like Rachel Carson (the author of Silent Spring) or Julia Butterfly Hill (who lived in a tree house for more than two years to protest the destruction of California redwood forests — monument pictured at right), and organizations like Greenpeace. They study other cultures to better understand how Native Americans and the Taoists practiced respect for the environment. In math classes, sixth graders calculate the impact on landfills assuming that everyone at Park School uses disposable plastic bottles to consume their recommended daily intake of eight glasses of water.

This spring, the sixth grade science classes will get to know more about Moores Branch as they study the school’s (and their own) impact on the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. They will test water quality, look for animal species as indicators of the health of the stream, consider the impact of activities upstream (filling the lake at the quarry), and gain an appreciation of the importance of tributaries on life in the Bay downstream.

The seventh grade will study alternative energy sources, like wind, solar, and hydro-electric power. Using the local example of the Baltimore Resco Plant, they will follow a recycling process that converts trash into electricity, releases exhaust into the atmosphere after sending it through scrubbers in an elongated chimney, and reduces the waste sent to landfill.

And the eighth grade class can enjoy the fruits of its sixth grade labors. Two years ago, distressed Park students at the Liberty Heights campus in the 1940s work to stem erosion. A recent project by today's Park Middle Schoolers echoes the awareness and resourcefulness of their student predecessors. Photo courtesy of Park School Archives.about the volume of run-off from the hillside next to the commons into the pond, students designed a garden to stabilize the area. They hauled rocks from the stream bed to shore up the bank and carefully selected shade-loving plants, like hostas, to fill in the area. Local artist and spouse of science department chair, Liz Baker, contributed a sculpture made of recycled glass to complement the greenery. The project recalls a similar student effort undertaken in the 1940s, when a hillside on the Liberty Heights campus was eroding precipitously and required major grading and landscaping to shore it up (see photo at right).

Green Parking Initiative

Two students in the Upper School Environmental Science class put together a proposal to designate 15-20 parking spaces in the Lower, Junior, and Athletic Center parking lots as reserved for those with green driving habits. These include carpoolers and those that drive electric, diesel, and hybrid cars. These spots reward drivers (and their families) who have made the effort to be environmentally friendly, and would hopefully provide incentive to others to alter their daily routine. The spots provide visual evidence of the power students have to positively impact their community.
This project costs about $60 for each spot, not including the initial cost of $150 to make the stencil. In order to help defray the expense, the students talked to the Senior Class about using some of their Senior Gift money for this project, in addition to putting in a proposal to the Parents' Association for funding. At a total cost of about $1,300, this would seem an inexpensive, but visually powerful reminder of Park’s commitment to issues of sustainability.

(Project was implemented in May, 2012.)

Pond Improvements

Pictured, right: One of the island habitats created from recycled materials on Park's pond. Planted with irises,  it has already attracted the attention of the pond's turtles.

Each year, groups of students, faculty, and parents work on the area around the pond to create an environment that is aesthetically pleasing and enhances our curricular programming. Over the years, there have been many plantings, invasive plant removals, and path-building endeavors.  The most recent additions are also courtesy of the Upper School Environmental Science class.  A number of students have been involved in making some floating islands of aquatic vegetation. Two of these islands are made from netting and recycled bottles, and one from a repurposed wooden pallet with Styrofoam floatation. Currently planted with irises, students will add diverse flora with the goal of developing the structures into lush islands of vegetation, which will be not only be visually interesting, but will also function as a turtle and insect habitat.
Two students in the Environmental Science class have recently installed an outdoor classroom around the pond. This consists of 22 feet of bench space in a circle, under the shade of a Boxelder tree. As continued plantings have made the area around the pond more interesting biologically, the hope is that Lower, Middle, and Upper School classes will use this outdoor classroom to more easily utilize this attractive natural resource.

Environmental Action Displays

Pictured, right: One of the outdoor bar graphs created and displayed by Environmental Science students. This one depicts the percentage of each country's energy that comes from renewable resources.

A number of Environmental Science students have been involved in creating an outdoor bar graph, representing various data about the per capita natural resource consumption rates of people from different countries. This graphic changed each day during the week of April 9-13 and has represented yearly per capita energy usage (in gallons of oil equivalents), ecological footprint (in acreage), and water consumption (gallons) of the U.S., U.K., Sweden, China, and India. This large-scale visual representation of the data gave the community an idea of some significant disparities around our globe.