Less Concrete Thinking: Greening Our Schools

To outsiders, the “Green Rebuilding of New Orleans” often might seem quite the abstract concept. But it only takes one visit to a place like Andrew H. Wilson Charter School to make green rebuilding very concrete and real. After the school sustaining significant damage from the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina, Global Green chose Andrew H. Wilson Elementary as one of our two Model Green Schools. In 2007, work began on the restoration of the old building and the addition of a 43,000 square foot expansion.

When work at Wilson completed in 2010, the school exceeded expectations and earned LEED Gold certification. The school’s green building features, which include a rainwater cistern, natural lighting systems, and a 5.04 kw solar PV system, serve as teaching tools for the students and the community.

This becomes immediately evident when visiting with children at the school. Brandon Elpheage, 8th grade, serves as one of school’s ambassadors and has become quite knowledgeable about just what makes Wilson a green school. “We use a lot of natural lighting here,” Elpheage said. “Normally in our classes, we don’t ever turn the light on.”

Wilson’s energy-saving features offer a lot more in benefits than just reducing the power bill. “It’s a lot healthier, mentally,” Elpheage said. “With the big building, everyone can breathe.”

Students at Wilson also maintain a vegetable and butterfly garden on the school’s grounds. The garden offers an opportunity for simultaneous lessons in entomology and healthy eating. At last year’s Broadmoor Fest, an annual neighborhood festival, students from Wilson sold vegetables they grew in the garden and foods they prepared from those vegetables.

“In moving to this school, we wanted the children to see what sustainable eating and sustainable gardening looked like,” Rachel Boudreaux, a reading teacher at Wilson and head of the garden project, said.

The things that make Wilson a green school go beyond collecting rainwater and turning on lights. Teachers incorporate the concept of sustainability into their lessons and teaching styles, and students recognize the positive impact the building has had on their education. From kindergarten recycling enthusiast Arianne Wire to upper-academy green ambassador Brandon Elpheage, the students all said the same thing to us: Every kid deserves to go to a green school.