Emily Zhang

Students across the Maryland, Virginia and D.C. area participated in Connect the Dots projects.

The Connect the Dots Green Schools Challenge encourages K–12 schools across the Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia region to implement creative, year-long projects that commit to enhancing environmental stewardship within their communities.

Participants develop projects that are low-cost, inclusive of the greater community and strive to improve air quality and conserve natural resources. These projects increase environmental literacy among students and provide them with knowledge about the importance of sustainability, using their school as a model for impact.

Currently, judging and preparations are under way for upcoming awards ceremonies to recognize all participants for their dedication to their projects. Project teams were assisted by volunteer mentors from the USGBC network to guide implementation. The 2017–2018 school year has seen participation from a wide array of K–12 schools with a diverse mix of projects focusing on different elements of increasing school sustainability.

Here are just a few examples of those projects:

Notre Dame Preparatory School

Students in 6th through 8th grades in Towson, Maryland, established a Lenten Carbon Footprint Fast program to shed light on the impacts of waste. During Lent, “No Waste Wednesdays” allowed students to acquaint themselves with the importance of reducing the amount of day-to-day waste that is created.

Participation within the school increased by 18 percent during the first week of Lent to 37 percent by the last week. Much of this increase is attributed to the dedication of middle-level STEAM club members, who educated fellow students through various outreach methods such as videos, poems, a school-wide assembly and a "Green IQ" quiz.

Discovery Elementary School

In Arlington, Virginia, sustainable transportation was the focus of a project where Eco-Action Green Leaders promoted bicycling to school as the favored method of transport. By handing out biking stickers, encouraging “Two-Wheel Tuesdays,” and adding a biking curriculum to the physical education program, the school hopes to increase the use of bikes in getting to and from school to reduce emissions. The school has also established walking and biking pools that will further their goals in reducing energy consumption through transportation.

Students learn about environmental stewardship

Students learn about environmental stewardship at Discovery Elementary.

Fisher, Blackwell and Miles Jones Elementary Schools

Three schools in Richmond, Virginia, championed teamwork and cooperation through a joint program focusing on the benefits of using solar energy in schools. Not only did they want to showcase the economic benefits, they also wanted to increase knowledge of solar energy among the student population.

Students working on solar ovens for Connect the Dots projects

Students working on solar ovens in Richmond, Virginia.

With the original idea taking place at Fisher, the Blackwell and Miles Jones Elementary Schools soon expressed interest in teaming up and creating plans to install solar panels for each school. They also successfully increased participation among other schools in the area, with a total of eight planning to implement solar panels in the near future. It is estimated that with these panels, around $2.1 million will be saved in operating costs, along with the overall decrease in greenhouse gas emissions. The Fisher, Blackwell and Miles Jones Elementary Schools were the winners of the Honor Award for the Connect the Dots program in Virginia.

See the rest of the USGBC Virginia Community Connect the Dots winners.

Moving forward, all three schools plan to continue their projects and further advocate for the benefits of increasing environmental responsibility. These and all the Connect the Dots projects were celebrated at the USGBC Virginia Leadership Awards on May 3 in Richmond, Virginia, and will be again at the USGBC National Capital Region Midsummer Night’s Green event in Washington, D.C., in July.