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Before we dive into all the transformative things that happen at the Green Schools Conference and Expo, let’s recap on what the conference is about. It is an annual two day event that brings together all the players involved in making green schools a reality; that is the teachers, parents, students, school and district staff, educational leaders, building industry professionals, non-profit partners and others who are passionate about the future of green schools throughout the country and around the world. By collaborating and innovating together the leaders and advocates of green schools are able to create visible, measurable and lasting progress toward the three pillars of the green schools movement: environmental impact, health impact, and environmental and sustainability literacy, with the end goal of transforming schools into healthier, more sustainable places to learn, work and play.

Natural Pod’s values and work are embedded in this mission, so our participation at this event is rooted in collaborating with other aligned organizations. This year we have joined with Green Schools National Network and Shaw Contract to promote and invite multi-faceted conversations around how to support sustainability in schools and further environmental and sustainability literacy together. The work of Green Schools National Network has really accelerating student achievement through the implementation of green, healthy, and sustainable practices across the United States, so Natural Pod is always incredibly proud to be partnered with them. We’d also like to highly commend The Center For Green Schools for the transformative work they are doing within schools and communities in forwarding the green schools movement. It was an absolute pleasure to connect with them during the conference and learn more about their vision: They believe that all students deserve to attend sustainable schools that enhance their health and prepare them for 21st century careers.

The photo above shows: Bridgitte Alomes CEO of Natural Pod (left), and Jennifer Seydel Executive Director for Green Schools National Network (right).

One of the really exciting aspects of the conference is the Student Summit, which encouragingly has increased in volume year over year. This is where high school students interested in finding their voices as passionate advocates for sustainability, environmental stewardship and climate justice are given the opportunity to elevate their voice and are provided with leadership training to do so. The Summit features panel discussions with youth leaders and environmental activists; training sessions on how to build a successful climate justice campaign or engage in active environmental problem-solving; and holds spotlight breakout sessions dedicated to sharing and celebrating how young people are and can make change in their communities.

Here are some of the young leaders in action at the Plenary Luncheon Youth Panel.

The opening Plenary speaker this year was Danni Washington, and Kelly from Natural Pod had the pleasure to connect with her before the event. It’s fantastic that Danni is participating at this years conference as she’s an inspirational mentor to many young people. As the first African-American/woman of color to host her own science television series, Danni is deeply passionate about our oceans and science communications. At age 21, she and her mom Michelle Swaby-Smith co-founded the ‘Big Blue & You’ a non-profit organization dedicated to inspiring and educating youth about marine conservation through the arts and media. Danni presently hosts a STEM educational TV series which features the latest advancements in bio-inspired technology and design called ‘XPLORATION NATURE KNOWS BEST’.

A big highlight for us was presenting the session ‘Inspiring Culture Shift Through A Multi-faceted Approach’. This was a very intentionally interactive session and a great success. Natural Pod’s CEO Bridgitte acted as moderator, partnered with two exceptional educators, Ryan McKenzie, the principal at Explorer Academy and Tarabeth Brumfield, the Program Development Officer at June Harless Center and at MUEE, Marshall University.

The objectives of the session were for attendees to gain valuable insights from the panel as they shared both educators’ and students’ direct experience of how a large cultural shift within their school has positively impacted their ability to become pioneers of their own learning. The panel shared how shifting to Expeditionary Learning with an emphasis on Reggio Emilia principles and intentional learning environment design, resulted in an increased sense of self for the students in this unique West Virginia elementary school. Pedagogy and learning environment design have combined to shift the school culture. By equalizing the social-economic disparity that many children face, a culture that fosters a strong sense of diversity, inclusion, and compassion now permeates the school. In effect, the students have a strong sense of belonging, have greater trust in their own ideas, and have taken ownership and responsibility for their own learning, including a healthy understanding of their responsibility to sustainability and their impact in the world. Participants left the session both inspired and more knowledgeable about how to create intentional learning environments that align with the instructional model and aids students in being more engaged in their learning. The panel also shared how to create a positive culture within your own school and what is possible when students feel a strong sense of self, identify as global citizens and care about their impact on others and the world they live in.

As the conference draws to a close, we thank everyone who attended and contributed, making this the best Green School Conference and Expo yet. Many meaningful conversations were had and innovative action plans developed. We look forward to the next collaborative stages of working together to transform schools into healthier, more sustainable places to learn, work and play.