Cape Fear Region schools recognized nationally for environmental and sustainability efforts

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — Three schools in the Cape Fear Region have been named 2021 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools for their efforts to reduce their environmental impacts, teach students how to live sustainably, and be good stewards of the environment.

The U.S. and North Carolina Departments of Education touring all the schools on Thursday.

The Director of Green Ribbon Schools for the U.S. Department of Education Andrea Falken said unfortunately this is not an area that Congress has authorized the department of education to provide grant funding, so they work to spotlight these efforts and the people that help make them happen.

In the long run, Falken said the goal is to have all schools in the country be Green Ribbon Schools.

“It is about, ultimately about, equitable access to healthy, safe, sustainable, resilient school environments both indoors and out and environmental and sustainability learning that prepares students for the challenges of the 21st century,” Falken said.

Their first stop on the tour, Wrightsville Beach Elementary School. WBES was honored for their outdoor learning spaces that allow students to search for sharks’ teeth, catch and release fish off of the on-campus dock to learn about wildlife and their naturally lit building that reduces their energy use.

The school was awarded the Blue Ribbon Award in 2016 for its academics. While it was an honor they’re proud of, Principal Jackson Norvell said the Green Ribbon is even more special.

“Test scores are one thing and we’re trying to do the best we can on those, but when our students leave us we want them to care deeply, about themselves, about others, and about the world around us and I think that’s where the real difference is going to occur,” Norvell said.

Showing off their learning gardens and hands-on lesson on fungi, D.C. Virgo Preparatory Academy also demonstrated its Action-Based Learning Room where students can learn while being active and its Restorative Circles that allow students to take a break when they become overwhelmed or “bumped out of their zone.”

D.C. Virgo is operated by UNCW and Wrightsville Beach Elementary partners with the university. Dean of the Watson College of Education Van Dempsey said what’s happening at all the schools is thanks to collaboration and partnership with one another.

“It’s not an accident the university is receiving this award, Wrightsville Beach Elementary as well as D.C. Virgo because we partner. We find ways to intersect,” Dempsey said. “The kids are having those kinds of problem-based, project-based, complex learning experiences that the teachers create so it’s exciting. The Watson College of Education, that’s obviously a part of the heart and soul of what we do and it just is really uplifting to see those kinds of experiences happen.”

The university is also honored with the designation for its Stormwater Best Practices Showcase, Movement Analysis Laboratory and Hydrotherapy Lab in the College of Health and Human Services, and applied learning in the Watson College of Education.

North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt said the sense of community in schools in the Cape Fear Region is fantastic.

“When we see the kind of hands-on learning, focus on careers, STEM education that we’ve seen here today, we know that we are preparing for North Carolina students to be a part of the future that they want to have for themselves,” Truitt said.

If you think your school deserves to be recognized as a Green Ribbon School, visit the U.S. Department of Education’s website for more information. 

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