Four Square Miles of Sustainability
According to its stated mission, the City Schools of Decatur (CSD) is committed to providing safe and inviting schools, including a healthy and vibrant learning environment for students and staff. CSD strives to maximize its resources through responsible operational procedures. The district employs best practices in energy savings to limit consumption and expenditures. CSD supports healthy living through its Farm to School program, scratch cooking, and "walk and roll to school" events. The CSD curriculum is infused with learning about the local community and the environment.
CSD has implemented a five-year master plan that will bring the district in line with best practices for energy savings and lower impact on the environment. The district serves just over 4,500 children in a four-square-mile area, in buildings ranging from over 100 years old to less than 18 months old. CSD is experiencing rapid growth. CSD no longer uses harsh chemicals and cleaners, having replaced all products with green supplies. The district’s new quarterly energy audit process focuses upgrades where they are most needed. The district has brought the Decatur High School and athletic center, constructed in 1952, to an ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager rating of 76. CSD’s water retention and bio retention cells are located under the new athletic field store, and treat over 121,347 cubic feet of runoff. CSD not only replaces trees on construction sites, but replaces total canopy coverage.
Through a private grant, CSD has implemented a one-to-one iPad initiative in grades four through eight. This initiative has helped reduce the need for textbooks across half of the grades served in the district. Not only has this had a significant cost savings, it also dramatically reduces the need to purchase and dispose of textbooks on a yearly basis. In addition, the iPad initiative reduces the need for supplemental and consumable paper materials. In 2013, CSD made a commitment to use reusable lunch trays and silverware. This has resulted in avoidance of disposal of over 500,000 trays annually.
CSD’s staff has worked to build community relationships with local farmers and community groups to provide students with healthy lunches that are sourced from the area. Recently, CSD began to contract directly with local farmers to grow food specifically to district farm to school specifications. The district offers either two salad choices or a portable salad bar in every school, and features a local produce item every month. Over the last two years, the CSD nutrition department increased dollars spent on fresh produce by 48 percent, and increased dollars spent on locally grown produce by 99 percent, as compared to the previous five school years. It is important to note that total food costs did not increase significantly over this period. CSD has seen a rise in students making healthy choices at breakfast and lunch, as well as a rise in overall participation in the nutrition program.
All nine schools in the district have edible school gardens, which are used for teaching farm to school lessons and growing produce for taste tests. Over 60 standards-based farm to school lessons were taught to students in classrooms and school gardens through a partnership with the Wylde Center. The CSD school health program provides seven registered nurses and a registered nurse coordinator for the district’s eight schools and the Early Childhood Learning Center. Over 50 percent of CSD students walk or ride a bike to school. This reduces the need for buses and cars, and promotes healthy living. CSD also provides students with a robust staff of physical education teachers, and plenty of time outside of the classroom for play and exercise.
The CSD Expeditionary Learning curriculum provides students in grades kindergarten through five an opportunity to participate in interdisciplinary experiential education opportunities. Expeditionary Learning design principles provide all CSD students the framework to develop a direct and respectful relationship with the natural world, and teaches the ideas of recurring cycles and cause and effect. The International Baccalaureate curriculum encourages students in grades six through 12 to investigate issues through research, observation, and experimentation, while working independently and collaboratively. The curriculum supports interdisciplinary learning in all STEM areas, and focuses on students’ relationship with the communities and natural world.
The Water Wise symposium is an educational opportunity devised by two district schools for all eighth and ninth grade students enrolled in CSD to explore global water issues surrounding access to potable water through multiple perspectives. For four years in a row, Decatur Farm to School has offered a six-week, paid summer internship to three Decatur High School students. The Decatur Farm to School summer program serves two purposes: to offer students a hands-on opportunity to partner with gardeners, farmers, and chefs in the hard work of cultivating fresh local foods and preparing these foods for consumers; and to encourage students to share their ideas about how to increase meaningful Decatur Farm to School activity with high school-aged students. The selected interns worked at farms, gardens, and local restaurants to experience the entire farm-to-table process.
Three schools, one district, and one university from Georgia are among the 2016 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools. The City Schools of Decatur, Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School (Atlanta Public Schools), Paideia School (private), Pharr Elementary (Gwinnett County Schools) and the Georgia Institute of Technology join just 47 schools, 15 districts, and 11 postsecondary institutions nationwide being honored for their innovative efforts to reduce environmental impact and utility costs, improve health and wellness, and ensure effective sustainability education.