J.C. Parks Elementary School was recently recognized by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) as a 2015 Eco-School, a designation only 10 schools received across the United States this year. Parks is the only Maryland school to receive the 2015 honor, which recognizes schools for their commitment to demonstrate sustainability initiatives, monitor energy efficiency practices, waste disposal and other environmental impact areas, and support a commitment to incorporating environmental education in the classroom.

Parks has two outdoor classroom locations at the school that students use during their science classes and as part of additional learning opportunities. The areas feature benches, paved walkways lined with trees, plants native to Maryland and concrete tables for student use. Lesson plans and activities focus on reducing environmental impacts, learning how to act on environmental challenges and modeling environmental practices.

The Eco-Schools program features three levels of recognition: Bronze and Silver Awards, and the Green Flag Award. The Green Flag Award is the highest honor a school can receive and all 10 schools recognized in the 2015 program, including Parks, received the Green Flag Award. Parks received a Green Flag Award last year and schools must reapply for this designation every two years. Schools are permanent Eco-School designees once they receive a fourth Green Flag.

Schools seeking the designation must register with the NWF and implement the following seven steps before applying to become an Eco-School: establish an Eco-Action team; perform an environmental review/audit, develop an Eco-Action plan; monitor and evaluate progress; link activities to environmental education curriculum; involve the school community; and create an Eco-Code, or mission statement.

Parks’ science teacher, Deanna Wheeler, coordinates program activities for the school. Additional accomplishments in the area of environmental education for Parks include their status as a U.S. Department of Education 2015 Green Ribbon Schools (GRS) Award recipient, and their status as a Maryland Green School, which was awarded to the school in 2010 by the Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education (MAEOE). Both of the Green Schools programs recognize schools for their environmental education efforts, for building and maintaining partnerships with their local community to enhance environmental learning and for designing programs to result in a healthier environment.

Several other Charles County public schools have registered with the NWF to take part in the Eco-Schools program, including Berry, Dr. James Craik, Gale-Bailey, Indian Head and Mary B. Neal elementary schools, and John Hanson and General Smallwood middle schools.

The NWF Eco-Schools program was launched in 1994 to help incorporate environmental awareness and action into school communities, support student academic achievement and financial savings resulting from lower electricity and water usage, conservation of resources and increased environmental awareness and stewardship. For more information on the Eco-Schools program, visit the NWF website at http://www.nwf.org/EcoSchools/map.aspx. 

Charles County Public Schools provides 26,500 students in grades prekindergarten through 12 with an academically challenging education. Located in Southern Maryland, Charles County Public Schools has 36 schools that offer a technologically advanced, progressive and high quality education that builds character, equips for leadership and prepares students for life, careers and higher education.