The U.S. Department of Education announced April 20 that Mary G. Hogsett Primary School in Danville, Kentucky, is among the 2023 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools award honorees.
Across the country, 26 schools, 11 districts, and four postsecondary institutions are being honored for their innovative efforts to reduce environmental impact and utility costs, improve health and wellness, and ensure effective sustainability education. The honorees were named from a pool of candidates nominated by 18 states.
Hogsett was nominated by the Kentucky Environmental Education Council. Part of the selection process for the award included examining how Hogsett met the criteria for the following Pillars: Pillar I, reduce environmental impacts; Pillar II, improve health and wellness; and Pillar III, environmental and sustainability education.
According to a document outlining U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools highlights from the 2023 honorees, Hogsett showed that it met these criteria through a building remodel that helped it become more energy-efficient, that it “reduces waste through food share tables, reusable trays and utensils, and recycling,” students are taught to ride bicycles, tricycles and scooters to encourage activity and teach them about alternative transportation, and it has several outdoor play and learning areas.
Additionally, it met criteria by demonstrating it “has a full-time nurse and counselor, two licensed clinical therapists, and a child psychiatrist contracted to work with students at school, all at no cost to families.” The art teacher is also a trained art therapist, and staff have ongoing training in trauma-informed care. The Families First office strives to eliminate non-academic barriers to learning, including through help with access to food, housing, and health needs.
Hogsett also demonstrated that through instruction, the school integrates science and environmental education into many subjects. The highlight report reads, “Students study birds, trees, weather, and other environmental topics while they are learning and applying literacy, social studies, mathematics, social and emotional, habits of character, and art skills.”
Students have been hands-on in the outdoor environment, helping to plant trees and shrubs, and observing birdhouses installed on school grounds. These are just some of the ways Hogsett has met criteria for this award.
Interim Principal Pamela Hambrick said, “I am excited for our teachers and students to receive recognition for all the hard work they’ve done in the area of environmental education specifically, but then also to know that we’re operating in a building where we’re thinking about things like sustainability and environmental impact.”
She is especially proud of the hands-on work students have been able to do, like the planting of trees and shrubs, and the birdhouse installation. Many of these efforts were made possible through community organizations like Bluegrass Greensource, a nonprofit organization that focuses on environmental education. Community partnerships have been instrumental to Hogsett’s environmental instruction.
She said the importance of students learning about the environment at such an early age is that they are learning about the world around them, like types of trees and birds.
“They’re excited about seeing those trees and those birds specifically when they’re out walking with their family or riding in their car, so they’re making those connections to other parts of their life through the work we’re doing with their environmental education at Hogsett,” she said.
Danville Independent Schools Chief Academic Officer Suzanne Farmer, who was formerly Hogsett’s principal, said, “We’re really honored to have that recognition and to have a national award and the opportunity to meet and learn from the other schools that are receiving the award this year. It’s also validating to know that the emphasis we place on teaching the whole child and embedding science learning and environmental learning into everything we do is best practice.”
Rachel Patton, a Bluegrass Greensource Environmental Educator who has provided environmental instruction for Hogsett preschool classes this year and last year about once a month, said she has taught students things about foundational energy concepts and the natural world.
“It has been a huge joy for Bluegrass Greensource to partner with Hogsett,” she said. “We absolutely love seeing the students’ curiosity about the natural world and the environment around them. They ask so many great questions that guide our investigations when we visit, so it’s really special, as an educator, to get to help facilitate that and watch them learn and grow so much.”
Executive Director of the Kentucky Environmental Education Council Billy Bennett said, “Hogsett Primary has provided many innovative and creative approaches towards a more equitable and sustainable system of educating students in ways to reduce their environmental impact. Their innovative bicycle program on reducing their carbon footprint in and out of school exhibits a unique and replicable way to establish behaviors that serve the common good.”
Bennett added, “Hogsett’s staff and faculty go above and beyond to reduce food waste and address student’s food insecurity issues by providing a safe and effective means of sharing unopened food items.”
The list of all selected schools, districts, colleges, and universities, as well as their nomination packages, can be found here. A report with highlights on the 41 honorees can be found here. More information on the federal recognition award can be found here. Resources for all schools to move toward the three Pillars can be found here.
- Danville Independent Schools
- U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools
- environmental education