St. Agnes earns Green Ribbon distinction

Kelley Schleg, a fourth-grade teacher at St. Agnes School, helped students pull weeds from a butterfly garden May 23. The garden was planted by third-graders. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

St. Agnes School, 1920 Newburg Road, has been named a 2019 Green Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education. The award was announced May 22 in Washington, D.C., by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

The Green Ribbon honors “schools, districts and post-secondary institutions for reducing environmental impact and costs, improving health and wellness and offering effective sustainability education,” according to a press release from the department.
St. Agnes is one of 10 private schools in the country and one of only two Kentucky schools to receive the distinction. Tates Creek Elementary in Lexington received the Green Ribbon award as well.

School leaders will be recognized in Washington, D.C., in September.
Leisa Schulz, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Louisville, said St. Agnes has “done such an outstanding job across the pillars the recognition represents.” She said the significance of the recognition is twofold.

“It certainly recognizes how St. Agnes has embraced the principle of environmental education and sustainability through their school and parish mission, as well as how it’s reflected in the curriculum.”

St. Agnes’ approach to care for the environment can be traced to the school’s beginnings more than a century ago, said Julianna Daly the school’s principal. St. Agnes was founded by Passionist priests and led by the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, whose charism includes stewardship of the earth, said Daly.

Daly said the school also took to heart Pope Francis’ call to care for creation in his 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si’, On Care for Our Common Home.” The school’s faculty and staff read and discussed “Laudato Si’,” she noted.

The school earned the Green Ribbon distinction for a variety of activities, which include:

  • Efforts to reduce environmental impact and costs:
    Fourth-grade students completed an energy efficiency study to determine the most efficient use of window shades in the school building. The school’s cafeteria uses washable trays, cups and silverware. Recycling is a major focus in the school, said Daly. Part of the students’ daily routine is collecting recyclable material.
  • Efforts to improve student and staff health and wellness:
    Counselors and teachers collaborate to discuss prevention. For example, middle-schoolers heard from St. Xavier High School students at the end of the school year about the dangers of vaping.
    Betsey Dragoo, physical education teacher and recess coordinator, said the students have plenty of opportunities to stay active. The school also is always looking for ways to keep students safe, with events such as the annual bicycle rodeo sponsored by Norton Hospital to teach bicycle safety to students, she said.
    Members of the faculty and staff also have the opportunity to take part in health training.
    One of the latest projects aimed at improving health is the school’s designation as an idle-free zone — where waiting vehicles must be turned off. Fourth- and fifth-grade students who are members of the school’s Energy Club are leading the effort. Over the summer, students will teach school bus drivers about the dangers of idling, said Kelley Schleg, a fourth-grade teacher and moderator of the club.
    “We teach our students that this is your Earth and you have to fix it,” said Schleg. “Students have embraced care of the Earth.”
  • Efforts to ensure effective environmental and sustainability education:
    Students have had the opportunity to learn about environmental sustainability through care for a pollinator garden. Two years ago, third-graders planted the garden on the school’s campus. Since then students have added more plants and maintained it by weeding and watering.
    The students also use the garden as an outdoor classroom by collecting data, observing the insects it attracts and learning why that’s important, said Allie Iceman, a third-grade teacher who works with the young gardeners.
    “Finding beauty and harmony in nature helps the kids,” said Iceman.
    One of the school’s latest projects, said Schleg, is composting. The students raised funds to purchase a compost bin. Material from the bin is now used to fertilize the pollinator garden, she noted.

Daly said she wants St. Agnes’ efforts to care for creation to spread to other schools. St. Agnes, she said, is willing to share its knowledge with other schools.
“I want these ideas to grow. I want other schools to do the same and multiply our efforts,” she said.

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