Green Ribbon award given to Charlottesville City Schools

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (NEWSPLEX) -- Over the past six years, Charlottesville City Schools have made a shift toward sustainability. That has culminated in being recognized as a Green Ribbon School by the U.S. Secretary of Education. The school district is one of 16 across the country.

One of the main features at each of the nine Charlottesville schools is the gardens. Emily Axelbaum has worked in the Charlottesville school gardens since 2010, and as the gardens grow, so do the students.

"It's a great place for kids to explore,” said Axelbaum. “And make new observations.”

The garden pulls kids away from the pen and paper in science class to study how the environment works.

"I think it can inspire their writing, it is math in action," said Axelbaum.

She says it is a second home for many, like Makayla Howard, who has had a green thumb for three years.

“I didn't know that I would be so emotionally attached to plants,” said Howard. “If someone steps over the bed or if someone breaks a plant I'm like 'No don't do that!'"

She opted to help in the garden instead of gym class; a more rewarding option.

"It kind of feels good to know that what you're doing is helping out the earth, or making new habitats for other animals," said Howard.

This is just one of many projects to help educate students on healthy and environmentally-friendly lifestyles. Another project is to collect all the stormwater from the large parking lots like at Charlottesville High School. There is now an advanced draining system to help alleviate damage to streams and rivers from erosion.

"It's grassroots,” said Jim Henderson, associate superintendent of Charlottesville City Schools. “We engage students and teachers at individual schools."

He has helped get the nine city schools into a more sustainable program, all with help from the city itself.

"We stepped back, looked at some things that we were doing, and engaged the city of Charlottesville to reduce our carbon footprint," said Henderson.

According to Henderson, this is only the beginning.

"The key thing is for us not to be complacent. We continue to extend our gardens. We continue to look at how we engage our kids in gardens not only on school site but beyond our school side garden," he said.

Over the past ten years, schools have had a 35-percent reduction in water usage, a 33-percent reduction in metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, and a 27-percent reduction in energy use.

Among the environmental aspects, the program has also analyzed how food and trash is recycled. Health of students and faculty has also been improved.

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