Prairie, A Leader in Sustainability Education
Sustainability is becoming a deep-rooted value within family life, communities and educational institutions. While “going green” is not a brand new concept, no school is approaching the initiative quite like The Prairie School.
Through the school’s layered methodology and hands-on approach, Prairie is being recognized as the leader in sustainability education. Students, faculty and staff fulfill eco-conscious missions through personal responsibility and collective action. Prairie’s green goal comes full circle through the disciplines of curriculum, habits and practices, and plant and facilities.
All of the sustainable programs encourage thought leadership and decision making, so the students truly become the direct impact in bettering their surrounding environment. The range of activities – Energy and Green Building, Procurement and Waste Streams, Environmental Health, Community Partnerships, and Curriculum Innovation – allows the students to find a personal cause that has meaning to them and translate that individual passion into new ideas and valuable effort.
The Trickle Effect – Influencing Local and State-Level Action
Each summer under the direction of third grade teachers, Mrs. Mari Grobschmidt and Mrs. Kim Leinweber, students monitor the Prairie stream that runs into our precious Lake Michigan waters. The students collect water samples, measure the oxygen and check the phosphate levels to determine the bacteria count and quality of water. From there, these students apply their findings in the classroom and share the trends with the local municipal agencies. Today, the project is recognized as Prairie’s Stream Consortium.
Over just the past few years, the students’ findings have generated widespread attention and subsequent action by local and state-level organizations. Wisconsin is in abundance of lakes and rivers – spanning thousands and thousands of miles. When dealing with so many natural water resources, it’s difficult for state programs to scope every district in need. Prairie’s students placed a magnifying glass on a waterway that may have been overlooked. Due to the students’ consistent and accurate testing, state organizations, like The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and Wisconsin’s Volunteer Stream Monitoring Program, were able to truly recognize the demand to restore Prairie stream.
Today, the students continue to keep the momentum flowing through partnership, on-going testing, and continued sanitation management. The third grade classes also participate in creating a safer and more sustainable environment for the area surrounding Shoop Park Beach. The students sort through garbage, track findings through database input and search for trends.
Scientific analysis and sanitation efforts trickle beyond the Prairie stream. Upper School students additionally take part in bettering our water ecosystem. Through independent volunteerism and school-endorsed programs, these young adults examine the shores of Lake Michigan and help preserve the beaches for public use.
A special spotlight shines on upper classman, Maya Dizack. Throughout her career at Prairie, Dizack and her family have monitored three Prairie stream locations. Dizack took her volunteer work a step further by becoming an award-winning activist. Motivated and concerned about her local environment, Dizack presented her documented findings and backed recommendations to local and statewide officials. Today, she continues to be an active member of the Prairie Stream Consortium.
The Giving Garden – Seeding a Healthy, Happier Generation
Over the past decade, Prairie has cultivated a green culture within its walls and throughout the campus grounds. Students and faculty work together tending to the Giving Garden’s vegetable nurseries and maintaining the lush school foliage. Throughout the year, volunteer students follow organic principles to help the plants flourish and students appreciate the big picture – the green picture.
The students even get to taste their hard work while the Giving Garden is in season. The organic vegetables are included within Prairie’s salad bar choices. Healthy diet and nutrition is a big initiative year-round. But the benefits from eating healthy goes beyond nutrition – it promotes a happier well-being. Prairie’s green lunch hour doesn’t stop with the last bite. As thought of by the Upper School students, scraps from the preparation area are composted and used in the Giving Garden. The point isn’t only to promote innovative ways to be more eco-friendly; it also creates an environment where the students and faculty work together.
Class Act – Environment in the Curriculum
One wouldn’t expect to find environmental awareness incorporated into a literature class, but Prairie’s Genres English class is an exception. The class takes a spin on standard teachings and readings, by applying an eco-conscious spin.
Each semester students learn about waste management and how it impacts the surrounding community. The students even take a behind-the-scenes field trip to tour the municipal landfill.
Those who attend walk away with a heightened realization of just how much garbage is accumulated throughout the municipality and how sorting recyclables or reusing materials can make a sizable difference.
Emily’s Day – Making a Difference through Remembrance
Each year the school dedicates a day for community outreach and fundraising in memory of Emily Maki: Earth Day. It’s on this day that the students volunteer at preservation sites and organizations across the city, including the Eco Justice Center, Riverbend, Cliffside, ReStore, Racine Zoo, Petrified Springs, HALO and many other locations. Emily believed in sharing experiences and serving through charity and environmental work.
Prairie’s Campus: Pristine and Also Green
The Prairie campus is a site to behold nestled near the shores of Lake Michigan. Inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright, the architectural design fits perfectly within the historical structures throughout the city. The building is so contemporary and impressive with its high-tech media center and state-of-the-art athletics facilities, it may seem like an energy trap to an outsider.
However, the school has made significant eco-friendly improvements over the past decade – many upgrades were even ahead of the “green movement.”
High efficiency food equipment ensures less food and energy is wasted. Prairie has installed performance-enhancing refrigeration solutions, including advanced controls, evaporators and condensers, so students can enjoy a fresh lunch and a greener environment.
The majority of the building utilizes occupancy or motion sensors. This option is better than timed lighting, since it only uses electricity when activity in the room is detected. The parking lots are equipped with LED fixtures, which offer longer, higher efficiency and greater brightness than incandescent or HID fixtures.
Sustaining Forward-Thinking for a Greener Future
Prairie is recognized as an academic leader – one of the state’s top college preparatory schools. But, it’s so much more. The school teaches responsibility in the choices a student makes as an individual and for the community as a whole.
Together, Prairie’s students and staff have taken a large step in reducing Racine’s carbon footprint. The multi-layered approach though way of curriculum, habits and practices, and plant and facilities make being a little more eco-conscious, a little more aware just part of one’s daily routine.
The big picture is greener, indeed. Prairie’s applied learning equips the students for life beyond the school walls. They are fulfilled with the autonomy to find causes that mean something to them, so in the end they are happier by doing something that is not just good for others but that will make them proud. The lessons learned throughout all the green initiative programs are sustaining future leaders for the environment and community. Prairie looks forward to finding new ways to blend sustainability education with the daily practices of its students.