Earth Day 2016 held special significance for Bishop O’Dowd High School.
That’s when U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. and Managing Director of the White House Council of Environmental Quality Christy Goldfuss announced O’Dowd was named a 2016 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School.
O’Dowd is among 47 schools, 15 school districts, and 11 postsecondary institutions being honored this year. The honorees are being recognized for reducing their environmental impact, including energy use, waste, transportation, and water; creating healthy learning environments and fostering wellness practices; and providing effective sustainability education that prepares students to succeed in the 21st century.
O’Dowd was nominated for the federal award in February when it became the first Catholic school to receive the highest-level honor (Green Achiever) in California’s Green Ribbon Schools program. The school was recognized as a California Green Ribbon School program (CA-GRS) Gold School in 2015, and a Silver School in 2014.
“Our school leadership has worked hard aligning values and decision-making practices with sustainability principles, as well as designing pathways for students to access sustainability in the curriculum and co-curricular programming. Receiving this recognition now is an affirmation that we have really stepped forward as leaders in the Education for Sustainability movement, and gives us purpose for continuing to move this important work forward,” Director of Sustainability Andra Yeghoian said.
One example of O’Dowd’s recent efforts includes a partnership with the ReThink Disposable project. In 2015, the school replaced disposable plates and bowls in the cafeteria with reusable baskets, reducing solid waste by 3,376 pounds per year.
And, as a Catholic high school, O’Dowd is committed to bringing the themes of Pope Francis’ environmental and social justice encyclical – Laudati Si – to life. To that end, the school strives to equip students, faculty staff, and the greater community with the tools, resources, and life experiences to create an environmentally sustainable, socially just, and economically viable world.
Some of the initiatives, programs, and curriculum that O’Dowd was recognized for include:
Building a LEED-platinum-certified Center for Environmental Studies
Gaining recognition as a Fair Trade School (O’Dowd is only one of 16 schools nationwide at the K-12 level to receive such recognition)
Creating a comprehensive transportation program to encourage carpooling
Replacing grassy areas with artificial turf or drought-tolerant plants
Installing a total of 243 solar panels on campus
Introducing new curriculum, such as the freshman Science and the Environment course, which provides a meaningful introduction to the environment and issues associated with stewarding the earth
Piloting the Living Lab Certificate program in which over 125 students participated
Supporting the formation of student clubs – such as the Sustainability Corps – dedicated to the greening of campus, spreading social justice, and empowering others to live sustainably
O’Dowd faculty and staff are currently formalizing the drafting of forward-looking sustainability initiatives across campus, community, and curriculum areas, building off of the success of efforts to date.