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Education's Green ALLY

Nonprofit brings green education to CPS and the community

By Margo Pierce · April 29th, 2009 · News

Ally is Cincinnati’s green introduction service, but it isn’t in the businesses of helping ecologically oriented singles find compatible mates. It’s a nonprofit organization that brings together individuals, businesses and other likeminded groups to create green and healthy schools.

“Celebrating Green and Healthy Schools” was the theme of ALLY’s community “mixer” April 23 at Pleasant Ridge Montessori School. The message was that a green school is more than a healthy environment — it’s also a learning tool, a part of the curriculum.

Ginny Frazier, founder and executive director of the Alliance for Leadership and Interconnection (ALLY), is also a musician who was unable to teach in the Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) system because the buildings literally made her sick. What started as an effort to influence the construction of one green school to create a healthy place for students, teachers and visitors has evolved into a passion that ultimately influenced school policy.

At the event, Cincinnati Board of Education President Eileen Reed explained Frazier’s influence

“About 18 months ago our board passed a resolution that positions Cincinnati Public Schools to be a leader in sustainable design,” she said. “We became the first district in the state to call for the remaining schools in our building program … to be built to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) silver standards.

“Our school board also understood that if we are to be as effective and cost efficient as possible in extending sustainable design practices and creating green and healthy schools in our community, we need to find, develop and deepen public and private partnerships to help us do so.”

Pleasant Ridge Montessori is the first school in Ohio to attain a LEED silver designation. Even though ALLY was instrumental in that effort, Frazier saw certification as just the beginning. Integrating the building’s green-ness into the curriculum was her ultimate goal.

“What I really wanted to accomplish was connecting the students to their school and using it as a teaching tool and using the school as a learning tool,” Fraizer said after the event.

“That’s happened. The kids were really pumped up that the lieutenant governor was here and listened to them. One of the mentors said that the kids’ demeanor just changed completely when he was here and they were giving their presentations.”

Joining Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher at the event’s opening press conference were Sean Logan, director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), and Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune. An $80,000 grant from ODNR to expand the urban timber program was announced at the conference (see info box below), but it was the kids who held the spotlight.

“We’ve been doing annual events, but this is even more important because we had all these young people involved and that’s what it’s all about, helping the young people learn about the 21st century green economy, and that’s happening,” Frazier said. “It’s very exciting.”

Running through a brief, troubled history of education in the United States, ranging from segregation to busing, Robert Kobet, national chair of LEED for Schools, said this is just the beginning of a positive movement.

“It’s important to know … we have really courageous, valued people who, in places like Cincinnati, are trying to energize this movement and make it successful,” he said in an interview at the event. “We’re not out of the woods yet. We still have political barriers, policy barriers, funding issues, bureaucracies. There are a lot of people who are leading who are offset by people (they’re) dragging kicking and screaming — they don’t get it, they don’t want to do it, they don’t see the value of it.

“The richness of the education delivery process … is where you have public/private partnerships, when you have nonprofit organizations who are passionate about the environment and education and they get these other synergies that go on in the world of education. They have insight to make these different connections that are vibrant and robust and bring resources — this is real nuts-and-bolts stuff. People’s time, energy, money, grants, venues, internship opportunities, job training, linking up the generations.”

Kobet credits groups such as ALLY for leading a grassroots effort to utilize fresh ideas to “reinvigorate” the educational process. A college professor for more than 20 years, he said he’s “exhilarated” by the willingness of educators and community members to come together and “pursue schools as a teaching tool and curriculum.”

CPS Urban Timber Program

When the Emerald Ash Borer beetle invaded Greater Cincinnati, leading to the eventual death of all local Ash trees, Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS), Hamilton County Solid Waste District and the Cincinnati Park Board partnered on a program to turn Ash trees into lumber for use in the fabrication of flooring and furniture for CPS. Since the program’s launch in 2007, 4,400 board feet of lumber have been milled and recycled into 30 book cases and coat-cubbies. CPS spends the same amount on the recycled wood products as purchasing items from a school furniture catalog.

Through the program, CPS students have learned practical lessons about environmentally sustainable practices, beginning with the furniture in their classroom.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Recycling and Litter Prevention has given $80,000 in support of the program, which will result in an additional 45,000 board feet of lumber over the next two years. ODNR also is promoting the program so that other counties in Ohio losing their Ash trees will learn about this alternative practice.



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