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Learning About Whole Child, Whole School Sustainability on the 2019 Green Strides Tour

By: Bailey Payne

OHPS students recycle plastic caps into elaborate murals that adorn schools indoors and out.


The state of Washington is known as a leader when it comes to sustainability.  The Oct. 28-30 Green Strides Tour that I attended highlighted the many different approaches districts have taken in schools located in rural settings, small towns, and even the heart of urban Seattle.

 Our three-day tour began at the Oak Harbor School District (OHSD) on beautiful Whidbey Island where we had student green team members show off their gardens, worm bins, chickens, rabbits, outdoor classrooms, and extensive recycling programs. Their walk and bike to school event featured a fire truck leading a parade of students to school – talk about motivation!  Students that didn’t walk or roll that day arrived on propane fueled buses which save their district $35,000 in fuel costs annually.

Next, we headed south to the Lake Washington School District (LWSD) in Redmond where we learned about the myriad of ways that the district is saving money and resources. Peter Kirk Elementary’s abundant natural light and LED lights help conserve energy and enhance the student learning environment. Sensors dim lights automatically on sunny days. They use the building itself as a teaching tool, providing an online dashboard that shows students how much electricity, natural gas and water each school in the district uses as compared with the established baseline. Students and parents have worked to eliminate the use of pesticides and to maintain a rain garden. The district reduces food waste through food share tables, a refrigerator, and donation programs.

In LWSD, Naturescaped outdoor areas for student play and interior design inspired by nature also encourage stewardship values.

We then traveled east to more rural Carnation Elementary in the Riverview School District. There our hosts described how Carnation students are learning to protect the area’s native salmon safe by diverting roof rainwater to their rain garden, marking storm drains, planting trees and inviting scientists and environmental organizations to provide real-world learning opportunities.

On our second morning, we toured the Issaquah School District’s green school and learned of students’ efforts to remove invasive species, reduce waste, and protect local lands. Like many of the schools in the tour, the district had built large rain gardens to improve the water quality of local


The Northwest School’s gardens take advantage of a temporarily empty lot adjacent to the school building.

Later, we toured the Bertschi School and The Northwest School. Bertschi featured both LEED gold and Living Building certified constructions, dedicated art and science spaces, a living green wall, solar panels, native plants, and even a composting toilet.

The Northwest School, located in an historic facility, was home to chickens, extensive vegetable gardens, and “environment hub” closets facilitating students’ development of stewardship values in their most immediate environment.

A discussion and networking session at The Northwest School rounded out the second day.

On the last day we began with a tour of Bethel School District’s impressive Food and Nutrition Services state-of-the-art facility that has enabled the district to source more food from regional farms. This, in turn, has reduced their use of pre-packaged foods and has led to energy use and food waste reductions. We also got to tour Spanaway Elementary School which boasts the most impressive school greenhouse and to learn about Bethel’s propane bus fleet.

Eatonville Elementary students have been monitoring water quality in their area for eight years.

We finished up the tour with two schools in the Eatonville School District and their district farm. Weyerhaeuser Elementary features wetlands and a dedicated nature classroom that feels more like a hands-on science museum.

Visitors walk the student built and maintained trails at Columbia Crest A-STEM Academy in Eatonville School District.

The Eatonville Elementary students met us at their district farm where students learn hands-on agriculture, horticulture, and ecology lessons daily. The tour’s final stop, Columbia Crest A-STEM Academy, just a few miles from the entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park, features student-maintained trails and garden beds.

Bailey Payne is Sustainability Specialist at Corvallis School District in Oregon. He serves on the board of the Oregon Green Schools Association.