Light Footprints



Elementary Schools Promote Activities that Sustain the Environment


Bicycle Everywhere, Recycle Everything, Hug a Tree!



Grades K-2

Concord Hill School

The Concord Hill Greenies learned that an idling car gets zero miles per gallon, yet still produces 20 pounds of carbon dioxide for every gallon of gas it burns. To help solve the issue of cars lining up and idling in the pickup area before and after school, the team turned to Queuing Theory, which provides a way to analyze queues or lines with the goal of making them move faster and more efficiently. The team collected data on the number and patterns of cars idling and interviewed teachers to get their input. The team also performed simulations to develop the best solution for efficiency and eliminating car idling. They changed the pickup procedure to stagger pickup times and communicated the change with parents through weekly messages. Additionally, the students created a video and posted it on the web to educate students and parents. Compliance was nearly 97%. The team collected data and found that cars spent 70% less time idling than before the campaign, significantly reducing the amount of pollution produced at their school from idling cars.




Vickery Creek Elementary School

The students on this team were concerned about the use of plastic bags for shopping and noticed that their two neighborhood grocery stores did not offer any incentives to shoppers for using reusable bags. The team visited a landfill to see the damage being done and then visited their grocery stores to collect data on the amount of plastic bags being used. The students created an awareness campaign and started by producing and sharing informational videos. They also visited their grocery stores every week with posters reminding parents to use reusable bags and surveyed shoppers. In addition, they started selling reusable bags at parents’ nights and reached out to larger grocery chains to find out about providing incentives for using reusable bags. From their data, they noticed a dramatic increase in the number of reusable bags used and have reached out to their senator and mayor for additional support.

Lincoln Hill Academy

Water shortage is a big problem. Team WATER RESCUERS noticed that sprinklers at their school were going off even when it was raining and that there was a large amount of water being wasted. They decided that their school needed to change the way they use water outdoors. The team first studied water conservation, looking at the Florida aquifer and heard from a representative from the Southwest Florida Water Management District. They further studied where water was being lost outdoors at their school and the soil and plants in their gardens. The class then made rain barrels to collect water on rainy days and transformed every garden at their school into xeriscapes, a type of garden that uses minimal water. They educated their school through a video that they created and presentations, and gave tours of the xeriscapes to community members. Students plan to develop a documentary that will be broadcast on their school board channel. They also hope to introduce their plan to the district's school board and campaign to reduce outdoors water waste at all schools around the district.

Harvest Elementary School

To help the environment and improve their health, students in this class decided to find a way to encourage fellow students to get moving by walking or riding their bike to school. After researching the importance of biking or walking, the class started a challenge that awarded students with raffle tickets and bottles of water for walking or riding their bikes. They raffled off scooters and bicycles. They raised awareness by notifying and surveying parents and reminding students over the announcements each week. Their data showed a dramatic increase in the number of walkers and bicycle riders. By helping their peers discover that it is fun to walk or ride a bicycle to school, they have reduced pollution and made the habit a healthy routine in their lives.


Denver Green School

This project focused on reducing the number of lights used at their school after students conducted an audit of the school and found that there were more lights than necessary and lights were left on in unoccupied classrooms or rooms with natural light. Students depicted their findings from the audit in bar charts and then developed a presentation to share their findings and solutions with faculty. They helped remove almost 200 light bulbs in the classrooms, hallways, gym, and office. They also educated the school community about turning off lights when they are not in the classroom and using as much natural light as possible. Students created and placed stickers above light switches to remind people to turn them off, created posters, visited classes to share their project, and instituted a Light Sheriff program. Each Light Sheriff has the responsibility to make sure the lights in the classroom are turned off when the room is unoccupied. They continue to work on the project and monitor the amount of energy their school is saving.




"Look at the tar roofs covering millions of American buildings. They absorb huge amounts of heat when it’s hot. And they require more air conditioning to cool the rooms. Mayor Bloomberg started a program to hire and train young people to paint New York’s roofs white. A big percentage of the kids have been able to parlay this simple work into higher-skilled training programs or energy-related retrofit jobs. (And, believe it or not, painting the roof white can lower the electricity use by 20 percent on a hot day!)

Every black roof in New York should be white; every roof in Chicago should be white; every roof in Little Rock should be white. Every flat tar-surface roof anywhere! In most of these places you could recover the cost of the paint and the labor in a week. It’s the quickest, cheapest thing you can do. In the current environment it’s been difficult for the mayors to get what is otherwise a piddling amount of money to do it everywhere. Yet lowering the utility bill in every apartment house 10 to 20 percent frees cash that can be spent to increase economic growth."

-Bill Clinton




Montgomery Elementary School

This project addressed the issue of Styrofoam trays in their cafeteria and their harmful effects on the environment. The students researched the issue and contacted someone at a green products company to have biodegradable tray samples sent to them. Students researched the additional requirements of biodegradable trays, such as taking them to a specialized landfill, and conducted an experiment to see how the trays degraded. The school then spent one month using biodegradable trays to see if it might work. The team sent surveys to students and teachers and started making frequent appearances on their morning announcements. From their surveys they found that most students wanted to switch to biodegradable trays and most parents were willing to cover the additional cost. Unfortunately, they found out that there are no specialized landfills in their region to collect the trays, but they are working to make other changes in the cafeteria to help the environment.


Grades 3-5

Barringer Academic Center

Although classrooms in their school had recycling bins, students on this team noticed that they were not always being used. Their teacher invited a forestry biometrician to help the students learn more about the connection between recycling and trees and the team decided to focus their project on reducing paper waste. They spread the word through posters created from recycled paper, their morning announcements and the school paper and encouraged teachers to use recycled paper for homework and tests. They gathered data by weighing the recycling bins before and after their campaign and were surprised to find that the weight of recycled material actually decreased, until they realized that this was because students and teachers were reducing paper use and reusing paper. They posted their findings on a blog and the student website and created a video to share to continue the project.



"There may be some things that the states can do to loosen this up. One of the reasons Harry Reid won in Nevada is that, right before the election, two big Chinese companies announced they were moving factories there to make LED lightbulbs and turbines for the big wind farms down in Texas. Nevada is a little state, and it gained more than 4,000 jobs.

The thing I really liked about it was that the Chinese guys played it straight. They said the decision was pure economics. They didn’t say, “We’re coming here because Harry Reid is the leader of the Senate.” They said, “We’re coming here because Nevada has the best state incentives to go with the federal incentives.” They were very clinical. They said labor costs in China are still cheaper, but these turbines are big and heavy, and higher transportation costs to the U.S. market would offset the labor gains—and there was a tax credit from the federal government for green-energy manufacturing, and extra credits in Nevada."

-Bill Clinton



Vincent L. Triggs Elementary School

This team’s project focused on reducing and recycling waste in their lunchroom. They had students recycle one new item per week, such as juice boxes, chip bags, and aluminum cans, through a local organization that pays for certain items and collected data to determine the effect on the amount of recycling. They also instituted “Double Green Days” once a week, during which students were challenged to bring no-waste lunches. The team spread the word by hanging posters, making a bulletin board, and communicating to parents through the school newsletter and regular phone messages. They observed a drastic increase in overall recycling habits. Their team has grown in size and they continue to expand their recycling program.


Don Roberts Elementary School

Team Roberts Recycles! took a trip to their school’s dumpster and were disappointed to discover that it was filled with plastic bags, juice pouches and paper, so they decided to launch a school-wide, three-part recycling program. They educated everyone at their school so they understood how much garbage they throw away and then split into groups to focus on recycling, reducing, and reusing Ziploc bags, juice boxes and paper. They then sent items to a local organization that pays for each item collected to help fund the program. The team made morning announcements, looped their PowerPoint during lunch, and posted flyers on collection bins the dining room. The team noticed a dramatic increase in recycling and is starting a Recycling Club to help sustain the program.

Bullis Charter School

After learning that the banks of their local creek were eroding away, students on this team worked together with a local nature preserve to develop an erosion control method and prevent loss of habitat. Students collected data and researched riparian environments and native species to each develop a plan for habitat restoration. The students visited the site to pull up non-native species, plant grass seed, and install an irrigation system, an erosion control blanket and straw wattles. They found that their methods were very successful in preventing erosion and restoring habitat and continue to work with staff at the nature preserve.





"Let’s suppose you and I go to a blue-collar neighborhood in Rockland County, N.Y., about an hour north of midtown Manhattan. On each house we could do a simple job—in and out in a day—that would almost certainly save 20 percent in energy costs. You wouldn’t even need banks if states required the electric companies to let consumers finance this work through utility savings. At least 11 states allow the electric companies to collect the money saved and use it to pay the contractors. So why shouldn’t the utilities finance this? To give another example, our climate-change initiative worked with the state of Arkansas, with the support of the governor, to develop a program called HEAL (Home Energy Assistance Loan), in which a company first creates jobs by making its own building more energy-efficient. Then, with the savings from the utility bill, they establish a fund to offer interest-free loans to their employees to finance the same work on their homes. This could be done with a little government support by companies all over the country. You get 7,000 jobs for every billion dollars in retrofitting. Let’s start with the schools and colleges and hospitals, and state, county, and local government buildings. That would keep the construction industry busy for a couple of years, creating a million jobs that would ripple through the whole economy, spurring even more growth."

-Bill Clinton






Kumeyaay Elementary School

This team joined the “Drink Pouch Brigade” with a local recycling organization to collect empty juice pouches and recycle them into school supplies, such as backpacks or pencil holders. After initiating a campaign to educate their school on the issue, the team hung posters around the school and visited classrooms. Additionally, they created bins to collect juice pouches at lunchtime and designed a flyer to send home to parents to get families involved in the initiative. They measured their data and were able to recycle over 1,500 pouches during their campaign period!

Flagstone Elementary School

In order to reduce the impact of budget cuts on students, this green energy team was created to help staff and students learn energy-saving habits and earn money for their building. They started by having the district’s energy manager visit the school to find hidden energy costs. They focused on four areas: lights on in empty rooms, computers not in sleep mode, projectors on when not in use, document cameras on when not being used. They collected data daily by auditing each room, which they shared with staff. They initiated a school-wide energy-saving challenge which would reward classrooms for saving energy. After the program, their data showed up to a 24% reduction in energy use and the district energy manager notified them that they saved more energy than any other school in their district. The team has been working closely with the district energy manager in hopes of sharing this no-cost plan with districts around the country.



Birmingham Covington School

Team Green-ergies tackled the issue of energy consumption in their school after learning that the U.S. contributes a quarter of the world’s energy use and produces more than half its power through coal-fired plants. The class created PSAs on the importance of turning off classroom lights, powering down digital devices and avoiding the use of automatic door openers. They also formed a Green-ergies Power Patrol, responsible for monitoring the hallways afterschool to make sure all power-saving measures were taken. They determined that their school’s electrical use had decreased by more than 10% from the same time the year before. Their follow-up survey showed that they successfully changed student and staff habits regarding energy consumption.

The Environmental Charter School at Frick Park

A field trip to a local environmental consulting company inspired students to create a green roof at their school to not only help energy efficiency, but have other positive effects on the environment as well. They worked with a consultant from the company and had an existing rooftop garden tray delivered to the school to better understand how the rooftop garden works. They then broke into teams: fundraising, design, logistics, materials and marketing. They worked with the environmental coordinator and principal of their school and did research to figure out the most functional and efficient plants for the garden. The marketing team raised awareness of the project in the school. The team designed the garden, which will soon be installed on the roof.






Do as the Empire State Building did:


"Our climate-change people worked on their retrofit project," which included new heating, air conditioning, lighting, insulation, and energy-efficient glass. The building's electricity use is expected to drop 38%, meaning they'll recover the costs of the project in less than five years. "Meanwhile, the project created hundreds of jobs and cut greenhouse-gas emissions substantially. We could put a million people to work retrofitting buildings all over America."

-Bill Clinton



Green Space



Problem: On our playground there is a hill that goes down to a creek. Many children play on this hill and even ride their bikes down it. There are not many plants on the hill and when it rains, the water in the creek gets very muddy. This is because of erosion. A local park ranger told us that the animals and plants that used to live in the stream are gone because it gets so muddy.
We watched a video about erosion and used a virtual lab to find out how to keep it from happening. We also got books from our media center to read about erosion and used the reading from the web site.


From the video, we know that plants have roots that will stop the dirt from washing into the stream. The park ranger said that plants take a long time to grow enough roots to stop the erosion. He said that we should put up a plastic barrier at the bottom of the hill until the plants can grow big enough to help.
We know that the children will keep using the hill unless we convince them to stop.
Our plan is to let everyone in the school know about the problem and what we will be doing about it. We will first put up the plastic barrier, and then plant 10 shrubs that spread their roots quickly. We will plant them in a zig-zag pattern so they will help each other spread the roots. We will put up a fence around the area with signs explaining that this is an environment project and to please stay off. We will send a message home with all the students explaining what is happening. We will ask parents to contribute to help us get plants and the plastic barrier..


We asked the principal to let us go to each classroom and explain what we were going to do. We asked students to stop riding their bikes and walking on the hill. We sent home flyers explaining what we want to do and what we needed.
A parent had some fencing he wasn't using, and gave it to us. It was just a little more than we needed. Whew! We got stakes from another person to hold up the fence. No one had the plastic, so we took some old, clean, good toys and had a toy sale at school and got enough money to get the plastic fence and some, but not all of the shrubs. We could buy 6 of them. Our teacher talked with the owner of the nursery and she said that she would donate the other four. We wrote her a big thank you note! She also gave us some peat moss and some mulch to help with the planting.
We invited everyone from the school to help plant the shrubs and put up the fences on a Saturday. We had over 50 people there! It only took about two hours and the PTO had people bring drinks and snacks. That tasted good after all our hard work!

Reflect & Extend

Now there is plastic fencing along the bottom of the hill above the creek and shrubs planted that are growing. We are watering the shrubs once a week. Once it is winter, we won't need to water them again until spring.
Good news! The creek is not getting muddy any more.
Our advice to others who do this is to be sure to get everyone's cooperation. We also had to show others where to ride their bikes so they wouldn't use the hill above the creek any more. We hope that the fence lasts through the winter time. We may have to keep reminding people to stay off the area. Just last week, someone tried to go through it an pushed the fence down in one place. We will be watching them!


The class learned that by finding a problem in their own school, they could help make an environmental impact. I guided the class through the project by structuring a six-week timeline to complete the project; I assigned roles to my students so that they felt a sense of ownership, but also ensured my students collaborated and worked as a class. We spent about 2 hours a week on the project. Our team was able to make a noticeable impact on the creek in the back of our school and we found that our efforts were successful. Our greatest challenge will be making sure no one damages our fence or destroys the vegetation that we planted. We are looking forward to tackling this next challenge!







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