School Spirit: Upper West Side’s PS 166 Goes For GSA Green Cup Gold

This post is about Public School 166, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, and the very different and equally encouraging green undertaking currently happening there.

PS 166 - Upper West Side

Yesterday, we used Greentech Media’s 2009 year-end round-up as a way into a (much) longer post about how government is changing/creating the green building landscape. One item from Michael Kanellos’ roundup to which we did not link, though, was this one — on the emergence of schools as a major component of the green-retrofit marketplace. As a consequence of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — better known by its nickname, The Stimulus — billions of federal dollars are slated for green retrofits on government buildings; because schools own their own (often inefficent) buildings, they’re expected to jump at the chance to improve building performance. But this post isn’t really about that. This post is about Public School 166, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, and the very different and equally encouraging green undertaking currently happening there.

In some ways, what’s happening at PS 166 is actually more encouraging than the idea of stimulus dollars laying the groundwork for a real retrofit industry, more efficient insulators and the like. Obviously, gbNYC is in favor of all those things — if there’s a website out there that loves good insulation more than us, feel free to let us know about it — but even for those of us who love us some government spending, the idea of a bunch of tax dollars going towards worthy projects is less viscerally inspiring than, say, a bunch of schoolkids learning to think in commonsense ways about how to make their schools more efficient. Which is exactly what’s going on at PS 166. The school is one of just four Manhattan public schools enrolled in the fourth annual Green Schools Alliance Green Cup Challenge, a contest that encourages schools to measure and reduce the amount of energy they use, waste they create, and so on. “Children are being encouraged to make signs reminding everyone to ‘turn off lights,’ and ‘power down computers,’” the school announced in its press release. “Each classroom will have two ‘Climate Captains’ who will ensure that lights are turned off at lunch and recess, windows are closed, and unused appliances and chargers are unplugged. And a Green Team comprised of 5th grade students and staff will make weekly school-wide checks to see how everyone is doing. School custodial staff, who arrive early and stay late, ‘power down’ the building, maintain the boilers and set the thermostats, will be integral to the success of the Challenge, and will be brought into the loop early as part of a community outreach plan.”

In other words, it’s the sort of thing that probably has producers at Fox News scrambling the camera crews in hopes of another scary story about Libtards trying to make schools into socialist-style “communities” in which people work together, share responsibility, etc. Which, you know… you can’t argue with some people. Particularly with some people who would see encouraging school spirit in a green direction to be “indoctrination” of some kind or other. But one reason why it’s hard to argue the indoctrination point here is that — that word’s heavy semantic weight aside — PS 166 joining the Green Schools Alliance reflects a commitment to a benign sort of indoctrination. The sort that you’d think everyone could agree with, actually: the sort that teaches kids not to rely on government actors to create green efficiencies, but which instead encourages a devolution of those shared responsibilities across a wider community. I’m not going to link to any of these clowns, but the right-wing line on this is that things like this — that is, things that acknowledge the existence of climate change, and thus make clear the need for greener ways of living — scare children, and thus should be avoided. Which, you know, is certainly one way to see it. It seems more to me, though, that teaching kids about the individual, human-scale differences they can make — by turning off lights, monitoring electricity use, creating efficiences where previously there had been waste — brings this sort of thing down to earth and makes it both comprehensible and commonsensical. Everyone’s entitled to their opinions, of course, but you’d have to be squinting pretty hard to see something sinister in encouraging kids to turn off the lights when they’re not in the room, right? Watch the New York Post’s opinion page to find out, I guess.

Credit for the tip goes to Emily Fano, an awesome UWS green gadfly who is both a PS 166 parent and co-chair of PS 166′s Green Committee. The school is also recycling styrofoam school lunch trays, using sustainable cleaning materials in the classrooms and generally doing a bunch of good things that probably also terrify Bill O’Reilly, and Ms. Fano deserves a hat-tip for all that, too.

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