Leawood school wins green honor from U.S.

Perhaps the Obama administration was impressed by Brookwood Elementary’s effort to recycle every last broken crayon.

Or maybe it was wooed by the school’s classroom pets — worms that dutifully turn coffee grounds into compost during the school day.

The school in Leawood made the Shawnee Mission School District proud Monday when it earned a spot on the U.S. Department of Education’s first list of Green Ribbon Schools.

Brookwood was among 78 schools across the country named to the list.

“Science, environmental and outdoor education plays a central role in providing children with a well-rounded education, helping prepare them for the jobs of the future,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said during his announcement.

The Green Ribbon Schools “demonstrate compelling examples of the ways schools can help children build real-world skill sets, cut school costs and provide healthy learning environments,” he said.

Brookwood Principal Teddi Pendland said the school has worked to reduce energy bills, but also to teach children about the science involved in reducing the school’s carbon footprint.

Pendland said that every employee, student and parent has played a role in the sweeping changes.

Brookwood PTA environmental co-chairwoman Jill Grotzinger said the school’s changes are no small endeavor. The school has diverted 90 percent of its waste from the landfill.

Much of that has been done through cafeteria composting and recycling.

“We used to have eight bags of trash a day, and now we’re down to one bag,” Pendland said.

Food waste that used to go to the landfill is now hauled off by a compost company.

Classrooms have recycling bins not just for paper, but also for plastic, aluminum and cardboard.

Parents and community members attending carnivals and math and science night are also expected to comply with the recycling efforts.

The school’s student environmental club has also taken an active role in picking up trash around school and beautifying the grounds. The group planted bulbs at the school and cleaned a Leawood walking path recently.

The students have attended homes association meetings and an Earth Day celebration to get others thinking about green initiatives, too.

The effort also has been integrated into the curriculum. Second-grade students used their newfound letter-writing skills to send inquiries to community members asking what green initiatives they have in place. A school bulletin board is reserved for the responses.

“We just try to integrate as much as we can throughout the school and in our curriculum,” Pendland said.

Grotzinger said Brookwood has received several accolades, even though it’s hardly a new building.

“We’re a 50-year-old building, so it’s not like we’re LEED certified, just been built, has-all-the-bells-and-whistles building,” said Grotzinger.

School officials said they’ve heard from a lot of Brookwood parents who have been pushed to think differently by their elementary-age children.

“Their children are embracing the environmental message and are taking it home and sharing it with their parents and getting their parents excited about composting or recycling,” Grotzinger said.

It’s a crucial sign that the concept is catching on, she said.

“What you really want is a community-wide effort,” Grotzinger said.