Produce Sprinkled by Solar Energy, Enjoyed by Co-op
Pharr Elementary School believes it is important to teach students how to become leaders in and out of the classroom. Pharr employs best practices in operations management, ensuring that the school is safe, energy efficient, and well maintained. Pharr follows district policies for hazardous waste, chemical usage, integrated pest management, and ventilation systems.
Pharr is ENERGY STAR certified with a score of 91, nearly a 20 percent improvement in energy use from its initial score of 77. Pharr’s energy-efficient upgrades include automated energy management systems with occupancy sensors and lighting retrofits in all classrooms. Teachers practice energy conservation by following the school’s unplug-and-put-away protocol prior to leaving for extended breaks.
Pharr embraces the health and wellness of staff and students, 44 percent of whom are eligible for free or reduced price lunch. Nutrition staff members post monthly trivia questions for students to promote eating healthy, and visit classrooms to offer additional learning opportunities. Pharr has a robust character education program that teaches students about being kind, respectful, responsible, and courageous. It also teaches students about self-control, perseverance, tolerance, and citizenship. Using the Fitnessgram program, students are assessed annually for flexibility, strength, and endurance. Ninety percent of students are helping to improve air quality by riding the bus or walking to school. Pharr participates in the Clean Air Campaign No-Idling program, which is designed to reduce idling rates in bus and car rider lines. Parents receive magnets to put on their cars to let others know the importance of not idling. The school also encourages students to walk to school by having Walk to School Days through its Safe Routes to School Program.
Pharr’s environmental stewardship extends beyond the building and into its outdoor learning areas. Over 40 percent of Pharr’s grounds are devoted to outdoor learning areas, which have been funded through the school’s PTA, local grants, and Donorschoose.org. These outdoor learning areas include a 1/5 mile walking trail, pollinator gardens, vegetable gardens, an African Keyhole garden, an alphabet garden, and native plantings maintained by students. One hundred percent of Pharr’s landscaping is considered water-efficient and regionally appropriate. Pharr’s garden had over 800 plants growing in it at the start of the school year. All plants begin as seeds in the greenhouse. Students and teachers water, weed, and nurture the plants, waiting to harvest the crops. Rainwater is collected from the roof and stored in a 650-gallon tank. Solar panels turn on sprinklers to help water garden beds, and students help to hand-water additional beds. Pharr donates over 90 percent of the crops to the local Southeast Gwinnett Co-operative. From June 2015 to September 2015, Pharr donated over 750 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables from the school garden. Students at Pharr know they are helping to feed families in their community, including some families from Pharr. Students also learn different ways to grow crops using companion planting like the Native Americans did, with the three sisters method (in which plants that grow harmoniously together are planted together), aquaponics, and hydroponics. Pharr recently received a Captain Planet grant, which will provide additional beds for the garden and more learning opportunities for teachers.
In partnership with nonprofit Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful and the Clean Air Campaign, Pharr has a multi-disciplinary team that focuses on waste reduction and recycling, air quality, energy conservation, water conservation, and greenspace preservation. Students collect and recycle difficult-to-recycle items in the cafeteria to send to Terracycle, and the school receives money for the recycling. Students also compost fruit waste daily from the lunchroom.
Pharr incorporates environmental education in prekindergarten through fifth grade that is aligned to new state standards. On the science portion of the new Georgia Milestones Assessment, Pharr’s first year baseline data indicates that Pharr students outperformed state, regional, and district results. Pharr has a STEAM special that all students attend weekly. Pharr students are immersed in project-based learning and engaged in real-world, STEAM activities. Some examples of STEAM learning include: kindergarten students designing and building boats to help a “bear family” cross a river; first grade students showing how water drops can move all over the world; third grade students researching and developing ways to reduce stormwater runoff and reduce pollution; fourth grade students creating circuits; and fifth-graders researching and building earthquake-resistant buildings. Students in all grade levels create murals and art for the garden from recycled materials like bottle tops, records, CDs, and water bottles. Students are able to show projects and artwork at STEAM and garden nights each year.
Pharr teachers and students pride themselves on environmental learning and giving back to the community. These student leaders are getting a world-class education through the Pharr STEAM program, in-school and extracurricular sustainability activities, and by learning the importance of helping in their community.