The U.S. Department of Education announced May 22 that St. Leo the Great School, Lincroft, has been recognized as a 2019 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School.
In offering her congratulations, JoAnn Tier, diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools, noted that St. Leo the Great School is the first Catholic school in New Jersey to receive the honor. In 2019, 35 schools, including 25 public and 10 non-public, 14 school districts and four postsecondary institutions are being honored for their innovative efforts to reduce environmental impact, improve health and wellness and ensure effective sustainability.
“The forward-thinking initiatives and activities that qualified St. Leo the Great School for this award are comprehensive and impressive including the school’s nature courtyard,” Tier said. “The courtyard, located in the center of the school building, serves as a living classroom for students and was designated by the National Wildlife Federation as a Certified Wildfire Habitat. This is but one of the enterprises included in the application to demonstrate sustainability and the education of today’s youth.
“Congratulations to the community of learners and leaders at St. Leo the Great School,” said Tier.
According to the Green Ribbon School website, the aim of the program is to inspire students, staff and administrators to strive for 21st century excellence by highlighting promising practices and resources that all can enjoy. Outdoor, environmental and sustainability education helps all students engage in hands-on, authentic learning, hone critical thinking and collaboration skills, stay active and fit and develop a solid foundation in many disciplines.
“To not only achieve academic success but to be good citizens of the environment is a natural progression as we incorporate STEAM curriculum in our school,” St. Leo the Great School principal Neil Begley said in early April when it was announced that his school had been selected as a Green Ribbon School on a state level. ”Investigating the science behind environmental issues prepares students to be the next generation of global citizens. One of our goals at St. Leo’s is to engage our students in real-world learning that inspires them to be stewards of our environment.”
The Green Ribbon award’s 17-page application focuses upon three major criteria, or pillars, explained Richard Romero, director of operations for the Lincroft school. Thirty percent of the score is earned by reducing the environmental impact and costs of the school; another 30 percent by improving the health and wellness of students and staff, and 35 percent by providing effective environmental and sustainable education, incorporating STEM, civic skills and Green Career Pathways. The remaining five percent of the score comes from the school’s response to a subjective, cross-cutting question.
“There was no one single project, program or process that earns a Green Ribbon,” Romero observed. “The application process requires a multitude of very strict, diverse criteria that assures environmental awareness, education and environmental stewardship is woven through the organization.”
He added, “St. Leo’s is the first non-public Catholic school ever to earn the recognition since the Green Ribbon awards program began in 2012, [and] only 20 New Jersey schools have been selected in total. St. Leo’s earned the recognition on its first attempt.”
Julie Casciano, who teaches STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) skills in the classroom and science club at St. Leo the Great School, described how students researched and built replica wind turbines and started a new composting site on the grounds. Cafeteria scraps are recycled into the soil, into which will be planted sunflowers, vegetables and herbs. “They are very up on things to do to help the earth,” Casciano said. “They have loved to do anything that’s hands-on and have learned so much.”
Schools submitted applications to their state for judging and statewide winners were announced earlier this spring. Begley and Romero received the winning plaque on behalf of St. Leo the Great School and the N.J. School Building and Grounds Association meeting March 12 in Atlantic City. State entries were forwarded to the U.S. Department of Education, which announced nationwide winners in June. A ceremony for all national winners will be held in Washington in September.