In Hopewell Valley, lessons about global responsibility are not merely academic. Where it can, the district is working to minimize its carbon footprint – in Earth-friendly design and construction of new buildings, in energy-efficient system retrofits of its historic schoolhouses, in its use of high-performing, green cleaning products and HEPA-rated vacuum cleaners and in paperless communications.
Geothermal heating and cooling systems in place at Stony Brook Elementary and Timberlane Middle School are proven energy savers, reducing our usage by as much as 30%. Electricity-generating solar panels atop Timberlane and Bear Tavern Elementary are helping us lower our power needs further, as well as generating revenue in the form of credits. Heat recovery units, installed district-wide, are a leading-edge technology and a particular advantage at our 1920s-era schools, which are uniquely energy-inefficient. Our school gyms, heavily used after school hours, are being outfitted with more energy-efficient fluorescent lighting, generating twice the light at 25% of the power. Replacement windows are double-paned for optimal efficiency. District computers are automatically shut down during the overnight hours to further lower energy consumption. We use paints, finishes and cleaning products low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and ensure that composite wood products contain formaldehyde-free adhesives. By reducing the number of chemicals in our schools, we are significantly improving indoor air quality and enhancing our students’ learning environment.
Taken together, these steps are not merely saving energy and reducing costs. They present on-site learning opportunities for students and demonstrate that sustainable practices do matter. Most important, they inspire. Eco-minded students organized and operate recycling programs at the middle and high schools, removing thousands of pounds of paper and glass from the waste stream every year. Student recycling of consumer goods continues to be creative in the years since high school students started collecting unwanted cell phones and empty inkjet printer cartridges several years ago. In 2009, Timberlane students organized a used jeans drive for clients at a Trenton youth shelter, and youngsters at Stony Brook Elementary packed off more than 200 pairs of unwanted sneakers to Nike for recycling into artificial turf fields and surfacing for playgrounds, running tracks and tennis courts. Organic vegetable and herb gardens at district schools serve as outdoor classrooms, giving students hands-on learning in good nutrition and environmentally sensitive land use while providing abundant and creative teaching opportunities in science, math and language arts.