Sustainability educators convene at Hotchkiss for environmental summit


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What’s happening in sustainability education, and where is the field headed next? Some 60 educators, including sustainability directors, business officers, facilities and IT managers, and teachers, considered these questions and others at an environmental sustainability summit at The Hotchkiss School (Connecticut), a joint event held by NAIS and Hotchkiss this past summer.
Hosts were Jefferson Burnett, vice president of government and community relations at NAIS; Wynn Calder, director of Sustainable Schools, LLC and NAIS sustainability consultant; and Josh Hahn, assistant head of school and director of environmental initiatives at Hotchkiss.

Hotchkiss, which aims to be carbon neutral by 2020, was chosen as the summit site in part for its leadership on sustainability. Summit attendees participated in a variety of activities while they stayed in LEED Gold dormitories for four days. They toured the school’s biomass plant that burns locally sourced wood chips for fuel and supplies the campus with heat and hot water from October to April. The most prominent aspect of school’s green building program, the facility reduces the school’s carbon footprint by about 45 percent.

Later, during a visit to Hotchkiss’s Fairfield Farm, two recent graduates described what they learned from their farm experience and expressed a newfound energy and commitment to sustainability — personal and global.

Participants also took field trips to area schools. At Berkshire School (Massachusetts), the focus was on the school’s solar array: 8,000 panels on eight acres, generating 40 percent of the school’s electricity. While on campus, summit attendees learned how Berkshire measures progress on sustainability issues, including climate, water, and energy. At Millbrook School (New York), participants saw the school’s zoo and learned about creating a building designed to attain carbon neutrality.

Several speakers addressed a range of current topics. Sarah Kadden, EFS Partnership Coordinator at Shelburne Farms in Vermont, discussed placed-based education. Torrey McMillan, director of the Center for Sustainability at Hathaway Brown School (Ohio); Bill Wiecking, director of The Energy Lab at Hawai’i Preparatory Academy; and Mark Biedron, cofounder of the Willow School (New Jersey), gave examples of weaving sustainability into the curriculum in various grade levels. Key highlights included teaching sustainability early and expanding the concept beyond science classes.

Craig Westcott, director of the Samson Environmental Center at the Darrow School (New York), spoke about “growing.greener,” a highly successful fund-raising initiative that has helped to generate significant support for campus sustainability projects.

In a panel on sustainable design, architects Stacy Smedley, Daniela Holt Voith, and Jeff Riley discussed developing “green” buildings and using them as teaching tools by exposing heating and plumbing systems. Throughout the week, participants were treated to a variety of fresh and locally sourced food, including Hotchkiss’s own Fairfield Farm (organic vegetables as well as free-range beef and chicken). At the closing dinner in the farm’s barn, Andy Cox, general manager of Hotchkiss’s dining services and Sodexo campus services, noted the school’s and Sodexo’s significant progress in walking the sustainable food talk. Sodexo was a summit sponsor.

In the wrap-up session, attendees committed to working together to achieve sustainability change in and beyond their schools.

To read more details, visit the summit blog on NAIS Connect.

Ari Pinkus is associate editor at NAIS.

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