Sustainability part of district-wide curriculum

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Whitefish School District’s director of curriculum and instruction Ryder Delaloye says Whitefish school are working to be a model of sustainability.

“Our students have worked incredibly hard to celebrate sustainability in the district,” Delaloye said. “Our community is involved in the climate action plan, our school district values sustainability, and here we are at the forefront of student engagement.”

Delaloye spoke about the district’s work during a Jan. 24 event including students, parents and school board trustees at Whitefish Middle School.

The presentation came after the district recently submitted its application for the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools, an award that recognizes schools, districts, and institutions of higher education that reduce environmental impact and costs, improve the health and wellness of schools, students, and staff, and provide environmental education. The district will find out if it’s been granted the award on Earth Day on April 22.

During the event, trustees and community members were encouraged to visit with students from elementary, middle and high school to learn about sustainability.

Muldown elementary students pointed to posters they’d made that discussed recycling and other simple behavior changes one can make to be more sustainable. Middle schoolers spoke on reducing food waste within Whitefish schools, and high school students in Eric Sawtelle’s GIS class presented findings from their research projects, which included topics like efficient urban forestry and the effects of changes to Glacier National Park’s ecosystem.

“What you’re seeing at the high school is kind of a free form inquiry,” Delaloye explained. “They have the tools and the skills to engage in citizen science. They have the ability and aptitude to really start questioning some critical issues that are affecting the community.”

After student presentations, the focus shifted to different ways the district has been engaging in sustainable practices to reduce energy usage and, in turn, reduce energy spending.

Sustainability coordinator and Energy Corp member Rachel Sussman has been working with both the school district and the city of Whitefish to evaluate energy usage and develop more efficient and sustainable ways to operate.

For the school district, Sussman mapped out baseline energy usage for the three school buildings and used U.S. Environmental Protection Agency software, Energystar Portfolio Manager, to determine a score based on comparable facilities in the country. The baseline number is a percentile based on student population and facility size, with a score of 50 as the median. A score higher than 50 means a building is performing better than 50 percent of similar buildings across the country. Scores higher than 75 mean the building is functioning at a highly sustainable level.

Muldown, despite its decaying state, scored the highest with a 76, just over the baseline score of 75. The middle school received a 55, above the baseline of 52, and the high school scored under the baseline of 68 with a 65.

Bringing those scores up is part better practices, part behavioral changes, Sussman said.

“It’s not that hard to switch off a light when you’re leaving the room and it’s a good thing to train yourself to do. If the teachers do it then the students start doing it and they take it home and you get that multiplied savings effect,” she said.

Sussman also worked with Flathead Electric Cooperative and district facilities manager Chad Smith to use infrared imaging technology to identify areas of heat loss in Whitefish schools.

In some cases, like in a corner of a Whitefish High School office, the imaging technology found poorly insulated areas where the temperature was as low as 29 degrees. After a quick insulation fix, the temperature in that area rose nearly 20 degrees.

“A lot of these issues are pretty easy to remedy,” Smith said.

Delaloye also pointed to sustainable food and nutrition programs at the district, like the second grade herb garden and the seventh and eighth grade vegetable garden. The district has also been recognized through the Healthier U.S. Schools challenge and participates in a Farm-to-Schools program, which enables the district to purchase food from local Montana farms.

Teaching students to grow food is about more than planting a seed, Delaloye said.

“It’s when you grow the carrot and you pull it out of the ground and you taste how good it is and you realize, ‘that was my hard work,’” he said. “That’s sustainable action, when you realize the impacts that you’re having on your community.”

Trustee Ruth Harrison said watching students from all three schools presenting on sustainability was a wonderful thing to see.

“I was really encouraged to see that you brought together multi-level of kids who had done obviously a workshop approach to their presentations, and they were all together in the same room. It’s got to be inspiring for those younger kids to realize that this can happen all through their school career,” she said.

Making the district more sustainable will benefit not only the schools, but the rest of Whitefish, Delaloye said.

“Regardless of any ideological stance that one may assume, this is good practice,” he said. “It’s good practice to be running efficient buildings, to look at conservation to protect our natural lands, it’s good practice for us individually, and I think it nourishes us as well as our community.”

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