For my last course in graduate school, I spent a summer in South Korea studying the education system. I remember leaving the United States with hardly any knowledge of Korea, but returning with a familiarity and deep respect for it. I was surprised to feel such a connection to a country that had no claim on me. Years earlier, I had been fortunate to spend a summer in Israel, and I naturally experienced profound feelings of connection to the country, history, and culture.

My favorite part of Korea was the pervasive commitment to environmental protection. The procedure for managing waste was elaborate. Trash bags were color-coded and different collection trucks came on different days at designated times. I remember asking my friend – a fellow graduate student and also a native of Korea – why everyone recycled. Was there a fine or a penalty? Some kind of incentive? Yes, she explained. But the fines are more of an empty threat. People recycle because they do what is good for Korea.

That experience has stayed with me, and has become integrated into the ‘Green’ part of my internal filing cabinet. I have always been passionate about environmental issues, and I love sharing that passion with students as the Green School Coordinator at HDS. To achieve recognition by the state of Michigan as a Green School, HDS has to complete ten projects from several categories. Some of the projects are simple, like making signs reminding people to turn off bathroom lights upon exiting. Other projects are complex, like having a school-wide plan to compost organic waste, or taking a field trip to a recycling center.

Coming up this year are some very exciting projects. My favorite one is a school-wide project about endangered animals. The end result of this project will be that HDS students sponsor an endangered animal of their choosing. Students will be researching several species of endangered animals and writing persuasive essays explaining why they think the school should sponsor each one. The whole school will have the opportunity to vote on which animal they want to sponsor. Will HDS adopt for a lowland gorilla or a black rhino? Stay tuned!

The challenges facing our planet in years to come are potentially vast. It is imperative that the children of today grow into citizens who know how to think critically about environmental issues. My goal is to teach HDS students how to think – not what to think – about increasingly complex issues facing the environment. My second goal is to help students feel empowered to influence their world in a positive way.

While studying about the environment, students engage in real-world learning that is relevant to their present and future lives. I have been pleased to find that it is easy to address academic standards through the framework of environmental education. For example, teaching students to measure energy consumption requires a math tutorial and learning about solar energy necessitates a science lesson.

It is my great hope that through Green Schools projects, HDS students will come to love the environment and feel determined to protect it. I hope that they will adopt a large-scale attitude similar to what my friend described about Korea: that people take action to protect the planet because it is good for the planet. I hope that HDS students will learn the skills to take better care of Earth than their parents have. After all, this pretty planet must last l’dor v’dor.