One group of Highlands Ranch High School students sorted through 400 pounds of trash to implement new recycling guidelines. Another worked on putting a solar-powered cellphone station in the school. Still another adopted a falcon.The students in Heather Berry’s AP environmental science class designed projects that demonstrated sustainability for the school or community.“The whole idea seemed daunting at first,” said Lyssa Giorgi, a senior. “There are so many little things, as individuals, we can do to make our community more sustainable.”Because of their eco-friendly diligence, Highlands Ranch received a Green Flag Award — a prestigious honor from the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) that recognizes achievement in sustainability.Highlands Ranch is the first Green Flag high school in Colorado and one of six in the nation.“They are reducing energy and waste,” said Brian Kurzel, regional executive director of the NWF Rocky Mountain Regional Center. “This instills awareness for students and helps them realize they can make a change.”To achieve a Green Flag Award, a school must complete seven criteria: identify as an eco-action team of more than 50 percent students plus teachers and staff, participate in environmental audits, create an eco-action plan, continuously monitor and evaluate the school or community, link the eco-action plan to the curriculum, involve the entire community and develop an Eco-Code that is adopted by the school.Berry’s students brought their eco-action plans to life, but the school and community were also involved.“It’s neat because we collaborated with a lot of different groups,” Berry said.Her environmental science class worked closely with the school’s ACE department, which includes at-risk students, in building an outdoor classroom. The space rests in the school’s entryway, scattered with large, seat-like rocks and surrounded by trees. The students memorialized the garden for a teacher who died two years ago.Students viewed their projects as an interactive learning experience.“In a lot of AP classes, you don’t get engaged in a subject,” senior Kendall Frederics said. “In this class, we were able to interact and make a difference.”Frederics will study environmental science at Carol College in Montana this fall, in part because of her experience in Berry’s class. Her team worked with the school’s lunchroom staff to study compost trends.Students were given an hour and a half once a month to work on their projects during class. The majority of work was done on their own. They were in full control, Berry said.“They learned how to be sustainable,” she said, “and how to communicate with adults. They had to fundraise and solicit help on their own.”The National Wildlife Federation views the school as a role model for others.“It empowers the next generation of conservation stewards,” Kurzelsaid.
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