What is small, mighty, makes musical ornaments out of recycled materials, and has a green thumb? Why, a student from PS69X elementary school, of course!

Along with creating a “Certified Schoolyard Habitat” garden, students have collectively gathered over 350 plastic bags off the streets of the Bronx and encouraged students to use reusable lunch bags instead of plastic. They have found creative ways to conserve energy across the school. And in recycling over 30,000 pounds of paper and cardboard, they have saved thousands of trees.

In 2015, PS69 Journey Prep earned the prominent Green Flag Award from the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) Eco-Schools USA for their work reducing waste, saving energy, and creating an NWF certified Schoolyard Habitat in their school. Because of construction on the building, the ceremony was planned for the 2015-16 school year. On Monday, May 16 the entire school community donned their “Green Team” shirts and gathered to celebrate their work.

PS69X Students celebrate green ribbon award

Students gather to celebrate PS69X Green Flag Award.

The joyous ceremony included a presentation from Jill Weingarten, the school’s science teacher and Garden Coordinator, as well as special presentations from the students. The kindergarteners sang a song about recycling.

PS96X Kindergarteners sing a song about recycling for Green Flag Award celebration from Kei-Sygh Thomas on Vimeo.

Third graders displayed the toys they made from recycled materials. And fifth graders who have collaborated with school partners at Con Edison presented on energy conservation.

PS69X students with toy robots

Students show off toy robots made from recycled materials.

The Eco-School’s Green Flag Award program recognizes excellence in environmental education and school sustainability. PS69 reached this pinnacle of excellence in 2015 with the help of science educator Weingarten, who started the program eight years ago. She successfully integrated sustainability principles throughout the school and curriculum with summer gardening projects that engaged students actively while maintaining an academic focus in math, science.

The Green Flag Award was the culmination of a sustainability journey. In 2012, the Eco-School earned the Bronze award for their work conserving energy. By changing the light bulbs in the school and creating public service notices to remind people to turn lights off, students reduced energy in the school by 470 kilowatts — enough to power a plasma tv in your living room for a year!

In 2014, PS69 won a Silver Eco-Schools award for their garden. The small garden that Weingarten built with students was declared a National Wildlife Federation certified Schoolyard Habitat. That garden has grown in the last several years. Their first baby sapling is now a seven-foot-tall tree and they have created two ponds that support different ecosystems. Spinach, cauliflower, strawberries, herbs, and sweet potatoes. Take your pick, PS69X students are growing them all. They even send Principal Sheila Durant collards (her favorite vegetable) from their home-grown garden.

PS69X radish plot in school garden

Radishes and onions are 2 of the many vegetables in the school garden.

Coincidentally, while PS69X celebrated their 2015 award, the US DOE announced the 2016 Green Ribbon Schools Honorees. We were thrilled to see another STC School on the list: The Urban Community School in Cleveland, Ohio. Some of the sustainability projects at UCS include a community garden, timers to turn off computers and lights when not in use, refillable water bottle stations, and a composting program. Students also immerse themselves in eco-friendly learning experiences; sixth graders even participate in a three-night environmental camp. In fact, UCS was the only school in Ohio to get the award.

Note: NWF Eco-Schools USA worked with the US Department of Education to come up with the Green Ribbon Schools (federal) award program to recognize U.S. schools that were leaders in sustainability. The Green Ribbon Schools program is now a program of the US Department of Education, as a complement to the USED’s Blue Ribbon Program for academic excellence.

The Green FLAG Award, on the other hand, is a program of the National Wildlife Federation Eco-Schools USA and the international Eco-Schools program more generally. It too is a recognition program for excellence in sustainability.

Read the National Wildlife Federation’s announcement here. To learn more about green schools and their eco-friendly initiatives, visit http://www.nwf.org/Eco-Schools-USA/.