About five years ago, leaders at Ascension School asked what they could do to answer Pope Francis’ call to care for creation. Their response led to Ascension’s designation as a 2022 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School.
The award was announced April 22 in Washington, D.C., by Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona.
Donna Jackel, a science teacher, said the Holy Father’s 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home,” was the impetus behind the school’s decision to focus on environmental sustainability.
“We asked, ‘What can we do to be more green?’ ” said Jackel, who teaches science to students in kindergarten through fifth-grade. “We’re very humbled and proud. We’re happy we can help fulfill the pope’s encyclical.”
The Green Ribbon distinction, she said, “serves to prove we are going in the right direction. … We’re trying to keep being green in the forefront of the (school) community’s mind.”
According to a press release from the Department of Education, a Green Ribbon designation honors a school for its “innovative efforts to reduce environmental impact and utility costs, improve health and wellness and ensure effective sustainability education.”
Cassidy Elementary School in Lexington, Ky., is the only other school to receive the distinction in the Commonwealth in 2022. St. Agnes School earned the designation in 2019.
Ascension earned the Green Ribbon distinction for a variety of activities, which include:
Efforts to reduce environmental impact and costs.
The cafeteria wastes very little, said Jackel. Leftovers are donated to the Franciscan Kitchen, which feeds people in need of a meal. Scraps are placed in a composter to be used as fertilizer in the school’s garden. The cafeteria uses reusable dishes and utensils. When it needs to use disposable items, they’re biodegradable, said Jackel. The school has installed water bottle refill stations and encourages students, members of the faculty and staff to bring reusable water bottles. The school is also dedicated to reducing the use of paper. Every student has an iPad, she said.
Efforts to improve student and staff health and wellness.
Healthy lunches are provided by the cafeteria, said Jackel. The school has embraced the “seed to table” model. Cafeteria meals are prepared using fresh ingredients, some of which come from the gardens planted and tended by students. Students have grown vegetables which have been used for toppings on pizza and for fresh salsa, she said. Students, faculty and staff are also encouraged to exercise and to ride their bikes or walk to school if they live nearby.
The school has also adopted mindfulness practices, such as using silence or quiet music to calm students at the start of the school day.
Efforts to ensure effective environmental and sustainability education.
The school started a Green Club, which educates members about the environment. In turn, members spread awareness to their peers. Members of the club implemented a “no idle” campaign to cut down on pollution from cars. The club also does an energy survey to monitor the school’s energy use. For example, students walk through the school to find lights that have been left on needlessly, said Jackel.
Mary Beth Bowling, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Louisville, said she visited Ascension in the fall of 2021 and was impressed by what she saw, including dishwashing in the cafeteria, the dedication to using technology, students using water bottles and being encouraged to ride their bikes to school.
“Their focus on health and wellness and some of the deliberate ways they are making choices to care for our environment is impressive,” she said. “One of the reasons they went in that direction is their Catholic identity and how we’re encouraged by Pope Francis to care for the environment.”