August Is Tree Check Month

Written by GEF guest blogger Rhonda Santos, Public Information Officer, USDA APHIS Asian Longhorned Beetle Eradication Program

Teach children that super heroes aren’t just in comic books.


Whether it’s a game of hide and seek, or a get away on a sunny day – we all have that childhood memory of a favorite tree and now children can be part of keeping those memories. We want our trees to stay strong and healthy for future generations, which is why the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has declared August as Tree Check Month. It’s the chance to teach children about the impact they can have by taking 10 minutes to check the trees in your backyard or favorite park that could be at risk from a devastating pest called the Asian longhorned beetle (ALB).

The beetle has led to the loss of more than 80,000 trees, and more than 70 percent of your community’s tree canopy could be lost too. The good news is that anyone – especially children – can help in the effort to stop this beetle. Having as many eyes looking for and reporting the ALB is our best line of defense.

Here are three ways children and families can get involved in saving trees this August:

1. Participate in the ALB Hunt.
The ALB Hunt is a series of activities designed to encourage children to enjoy the outdoors and learn how they can save their communities trees. It includes an ALB Hunt video and two worksheets that teach them how to identify the kinds of trees that are at risk from the ALB, as well as the signs that a tree has been infested by an ALB. All of the materials are free for families and educators to download.

2. Send an ALB Postcard.
Children are encouraged to get friends and family members involved with Tree Check Month by sending an ALB Postcard during the month of August, reminding others to check their trees to be sure they are healthy and strong. The postcard is free to download and includes a game to get people ready to search for the ALB.

3. Go on a tree check walk.
Take a stroll through your neighborhood or a hike in the woods and encourage your children to check the trees around them for signs of trouble.

What should children be looking for?
1. Dime-sized (1/4” or larger), perfectly round exit holes
2. Shallow scars in bark where the eggs are laid
3. Sawdust-like materials, called frass, on the ground and the branches
4. Dead branches
5. The actual beetle

Spend August giving back to the trees that play such an important part in our lives. It’s a great excuse to get outside and teach children how they can help save something that is at the heart of the outdoors.

For more activities or if you see any signs or symptoms of the ALB, report it immediately. Visit, to report your sightings or call the toll free hotline at 1-866-702-9938.

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Contaminated Water Can Ruin a Beach Day

Summer_GEF_2Who doesn’t love spending time at the beach on a hot summer day? It’s a great way to get out of the house and cool off—BUT be careful!

There are various types of pollutants that can make the ocean unsafe to swim in, including oil, polluted rainwater, toxic materials, and trash. Swimming in polluted water can make you sick, and that would certainly put a damper on your summer plans! So be aware of your beach’s pollution status before you plan a trip this summer.

Test the Waters
You can reduce your risk of getting sick by following these tips from the Natural Resources Defense Council:

  • Visit beaches that you know are being monitored for contamination and check for contamination warnings before going to a beach
  • Avoid beaches that may have discharge pipes close by or at urban beaches after a heavy rainfall
  • Stay out of murky water or water with a foul smell
  • If you have any sort of open wound or infection avoid beach water altogether
  • Swim keeping your head out of the water

What You Can Do?
If you’re passionate about your local beach then there is something you can do to help keep it clean and safe! Organize a monthly clean up. Just get a group of other avid beach-lovers, choose a public beach, and pick up trash along the shore. Make sure you use gloves and stay away from debris that could be harmful to you.

Also, check out GEF’s Sustainable Water Challenge to learn more about water sustainability and click here for Water Saving Tips!

NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council)
NRDC is the nation’s most effective environmental action organization. NRDC uses law, science, and the support of 1.4 million members and online activists to protect the planet’s wildlife and wild places and to ensure a safe and healthy environment for all living things. NRDC’s website provides a wealth of environmental information as well as state-of-the-art online activism tools.

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Announcing the Return of the Green Thumb Challenge Grant!

Green Thumb LogoCalling all schools and youth groups nationwide! It’s that time of year again – GEF and Gardener’s Supply Company are offering a $1,000 dollar grant to an existing gardening program through the Green Thumb Challenge. This award is designed to support a youth garden program that has demonstrated success, encouraged education and provided a chance for children to connect with their community. The application deadline is September 30, so there’s plenty of time to submit your own project!

Last year, we received over 200 amazing applications from across the country that demonstrate just how impactful gardening can be on the lives of students and their communities. Green Chimneys was the winner of the 2012 Green Thumb Challenge grant and used the funds to complete ongoing maintenance projects necessary to sustain the school’s garden and garden infrastructure.

GreenChimneysGarden7The gardening program at Green Chimneys has played an important part in the lives of their students since its’ founding in 1947 as it is integrated into the curriculum of their science, math and language arts classes. Gardening classes are also taught year-round by a certified horticultural therapist. During the Spring, Summer and Fall months, classes are held in one of their organic gardens, where planting maintenance and harvesting of crops is taught. In the Winter, students learn about the scientific side of horticulture, such as plant anatomy and seed propagation in the greenhouse. Last year, students raised over 7,500 pounds of produce that was used in the school’s dining hall, the life skills and nutrition classes, their farm stand, as well as their Green Cuisine Culinary Arts Program.

Read more about the winning project and the 5 runners-up on GEF’s website. Plus, check out our Facebook album that showcases pictures from a large selection of applicants. If you applied, and you see your photos, be sure to tag yourself and the school!

To be considered for this grant you must:

Gardens are a great way to bring sustainability and education to your institution! By growing a garden you engage in community, learn through hands on activity, produce nutritious food, and much more! Enter your garden for the chance to win a $1,000 grant today!


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Wrap-Up of National Green Week 2013!


Thanks to everyone who participated in National Green Week 2013! It was a huge accomplishment and we wanted to follow up with an update on the success of our sustainability programs. Between February 4th and April 30th, schools, classrooms and youth groups from across the country and around the world participated in the Green Week program. National Green Week is a time to make students aware of important sustainability topics and get them excited to do their part to make a difference! What better way to drum up enthusiasm than with a fun and educational contest? This year there were three contests available at the national level to participate in during Green Week, each with their own great prizes and sustainability focus.


At the close of each National Green Week, Green in Action Awards are granted to inspiring projects based on GEF’s sustainability themes. We congratulate all schools and youth groups who submitted their sustainability projects, lessons or activities and offer special congratulations to the Mendham Township Elementary School’s 3rd Grade Green Team for being selected as the winner of this year’s Green in Action Award! We also congratulate this year’s semi-finalist, Williamsburg Preparatory High School and give a special shout-out to our 2013 runners-up. Visit the 2013 Green in Action Award Winner’s page to view projects and pictures from some of the best submissions we received this year.

Launched in 2008, GEF’s National Green Week continues to grow with enthusiasm and achievement. Respondents of GEF’s program survey provided positive feedback on GEF’s National Green Week program this year. Results show that 88% of teachers would recommend GEF’s programs and curriculum to their peers and 62% of teachers reported that after participating in Green Week, they are extremely likely to continue to teach sustainability or pursue sustainability projects. One teacher commented, “I am looking forward to continuing the programs we started this year and adding other activities that will help us be good Earth stewards.” With extremely optimistic survey results, GEF hopes to improve existing programs, develop new sustainability initiatives, and provide more resources for schools to utilize.


The other National Green Week contests were the Water Audit Raffle and the Green Classroom Pledge. The Water Audit Raffle asked students to conduct a water audit of their home or school as a way to understand how much water is used and possibly wasted every day. We congratulate The River School, the winner of this year’s Water Audit Raffle! The Green Classroom Pledge outlines simple ways a classroom can have a significant impact on the environment. We congratulate the winners of this year’s Green Classroom Pledge Contest, the Burns Science and Technology Charter School and the Dennis C. Haley Pilot School. Thank you for your support of sustainability education!


Join us in 2014 for the National Green Week movement to start making a sustainable difference at your institution!

Post by Kelsey Bedard and Amanda Granato, GEF Interns

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2013 Green Ribbon Awards

The U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) is a federal recognition program that opened in September 2011. This program honors schools that are exemplary in reducing environmental impact and costs, promoting health, and providing effective environmental and sustainability education to give students the skills and concepts needed in the growing global economy.

ImageThis year there are 78 honored schools across the nation, each demonstrating impressive success in attaining these goals. We’d like to congratulate all of these schools and recognize a few that stood out to us! 

One of these is the Journey School in Aliso Viejo, California. This school has an exciting curriculum packed with environmental and sustainability education and practices. The students spend a lot of time outside doing projects in their gardens, and not only do the students learn about gardening, but they then eat what they have grown! They even compost, giving the students an understanding of the soil as well as the plants themselves. These kids get their hands dirty and have fun, while receiving a practical science and math education.

The school has five gardens—Wow! One, they call the Native Garden where a rainwater harvesting site is located (as seen below). The rainwater site was actually created by a student as her 8th grade project! She then educated the students and entire community all about rainwater harvesting. The process is not only neat, but educational. The students use mathematics to calculate how much rain can be captured annually on the school building’s rooftops. Then that water is re-routed from the roof into a mulch pit which sustains native plants. Such an innovative and conservative way to garden! Image

The Journey School continues to be committed to teaching and implementing innovative environmental education and sustainable practices campus wide. They are an extraordinary example for other schools, showing an inspiring passion and flair for greener living. 

Other schools exhibiting similar initiatives are the 17 schools of the Talladega County School District in Alabama providing their students with an education privileged with sustainable techniques and instruction. These schools have worked hard to ensure that their institutions are doing their part in providing an example of what it means to be a sustainable school in the United States, and they have definitely done just that!

ImageThe schools have put $6 million worth of grants to use in developing new resources for environmental education such as greenhouses, gardens, and outdoor learning facilities, as well as designing a hands-on education program for their students! The kids are taught about the environment based on their grade and age starting with the basics of recycling and progressing to the science behind air and water quality. They are taught to be green from the very beginning of their education! These schools have also excelled in the enhancement of the health and nutrition of their students and staff. They promote the physical education of their students and provide locally grown healthy food options for students and faculty alike. Much of this food is grown on the campus by the students themselves!

The Talladega School District’s maintenance of the schools in the area, (such as monitoring the thermostats and shutting off the lights for the weekends) have saved the Talladega County School District $2.5 million since the beginning of their push for sustainability! These simple changes have really paid off!


Hats off to these schools for their hands-on sustainability education!

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Reconciliation Ecology Project at Manzo Elementary School

Written by GEF guest blogger Linda Cato
Linda Cato is a K-12 educator and curriculum designer, green school advocate, and USGBC volunteer

Linda Cato Blog Photo 3Barrio Hollywood on Tucson’s west side is a neighborhood like so many in the desert-urban areas of the Southwest. With the distinct feel of a place where cultures meet and landscape is demanding, this family-oriented yet underserved community is home to predominantly Hispanic and Native American families, many of whom have lived there for generations. Wide streets are bordered by low, masonry houses and tall cacti; yards are mostly earth with a few determined plants struggling their way through the harsh extremes of the Sonoran Desert.

In this quiet and mostly overlooked community, something magical and powerful is happening. The neighborhood school, Manzo Elementary, is transforming learning, lives, and community through stellar and grass-roots green education initiatives that have now garnered national attention. This past January, Manzo was awarded the Best of Green Schools 2012 by the Center for Green Schools, USGBC. This prestigious honor recognizes top educational institutions and individuals across the country for embracing environmental initiatives.

Manzo is the only public K-12 school to be honored in this way – and it is well deserved. Manzo Elementary embodies the gold standard of best practices in green education: promoting sustainable communities, stewardship, healthy choices, innovation in learning and educational facilities, while re-envisioning education, and building the foundation for a future that is green for all.

Linda Cato Blog Photo 5

The story of Manzo is as inspiring as the beauty of the program as it stands today. The Linda Cato Blog Photo 2Reconciliation Ecology Project at Manzo Elementary, as the program is known, is the brain-child of Manzo counselor Moses Thompson. Moses, with the support of principal Mark Alvarez, began with the hands-on transformation of a trash-filled and trouble-prone empty lot across the street from school,. Together with students and families, that lot was transformed into a desert biome, where indigenous plants are grown and water is harvested according to permaculture principles. Moses uses the beautiful and nurturing surroundings of this now-lush desert landscape for his student counseling sessions. This desert biome project was just the beginning. Manzo is now home to a desert tortoise habitat, an extensive solar-powered aquaponics system, organic gardens, chicken coops, composting centers, a green- house, water collection systems….and the list goes on. All of the green initiatives are integrated into and across the curriculum, and many community partnerships have been formed along the way. Manzo also hosts a weekly farmer’s market that is organized by the students, where produce from the gardens and eggs are sold, promoting green entrepreneurship and student leadership.

While the struggles of schools in under-served neighborhoods are well known to all, in Manzo we see the light of hope and transformation through the re-connection of young children to nature, to their food sources, and in the development of empathy to all living things, all as a result of this truly green program. Families once dis-enfranchised from participation in this neighborhood school are now active participants, sharing skills, culture, and tradition, through the green programs. School yards that were once dust are now full of growth and life, and students are learning in healing and nurturing surroundings. Nutritional needs are addressed as families and neighbors are eating fresh food from the school gardens and fish from the aquaponics system.

Linda Cato Blog Photo 1The term “Reconciliation Ecology” is defined as “the science of accommodating wild species within occupied spaces”. I think this is a fitting name for the Manzo project, and I wo uld like to extend the notion a bit further. I would offer the work being done at Manzo the name of “Reconciliation Learning”, the place in education where our humanity, our care for the planet, for all living things, for each other, is accommodated into curriculum and moved out into our communities, becoming the new norm and best practice in classroom learning everywhere. Programs like Manzo are the proof that green education matters tremendously, and that small steps lead to great changes.

After note: Citing budget shortfalls, low test-scores, and under-enrollment, Manzo Elementary, along with 16 other schools in the Tucson Unified School District, had been slated for closure by the district this past Fall. A tremendous outpouring of community support from all who recognize the vision and inspiration that is Manzo worked to convince the TUSD school board to allow Manzo to remain open. Sadly, most of the other schools will be closing. In this context, it is even more important to remember that green schools save resources and money, allowing those funds back into classrooms while cutting back on district expenditures, and that integrated curriculum and higher levels of student engagement, which we see as a result of green learning, all work together to improve student outcomes. Green schools matter in so many ways.

Linda Cato Blog Photo 4

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