Middle schoolers sometimes get a bad rap. People say they don’t care, or that the only thing they do care about is trying to be “cool.” But the students at Fairfax City’s Lanier Middle School (LMS) are proving that stereotype wrong. At this school, caring about the environment is the cool thing to do.
And these kids care, a lot—especially the members of the school’s Eco Club, who walk excitedly and talk fast with passion when they’re asked about the student-led environment projects implemented at LMS, which earned the school the prestigious Green Flag Award by the National Wildlife Federation during the 2018 to 2019 school year. LMS has been recognized for its green innovation four times, making its Green Flag status permanent—the first middle school in the country to reach that achievement—meaning it does not have to reapply for the Green Flag, while other schools in the nation must apply every two years.
The award is given to schools who accomplish a set of criteria, from implementing eco action plans to mitigating environmental problems on school grounds, and Green Flag status requires a total of 300 points within a detailed rubric.
“The big thing is giving everybody opportunities,” says Faiza Alam, a special education science and algebra teacher at LMS, who also serves as the advisor of the Eco Club. Student-led projects at LMS, to name a few, include a rain garden that captures runoff (like trash and other pollutants) before it gets to the storm drain at the base of a parking lot, a recycling program, student-posted QR codes for sharing environmental facts via cell phones, composting and an outdoor classroom with a fruit and vegetable garden, pollinator garden, a pond for ducks to visit and painted tree stumps, serving as seats for students during lessons.
“The coolest thing about Eco Club is you can see the change that you’ve made,” says rising high school freshman and former Eco Club member, Maya Littman. “For example, we’ve seen that there’s no trash in the parking lot, but there’s trash in the rain garden, which means it’s been doing its job.”
Alam began leading Eco Club in 2006, the same year the school undertook an environmentally friendly initiative, including installing tinted windows for energy efficiency and light sensors that automatically turn off the lights. And it’s not just the Eco Club that leads the way to sustainability. At LMS, everyone is part of the green team, and the belief is incorporated into the curriculums across classrooms (even art class, where they use recycled materials for projects). More recently, the school installed a wind turbine with a solar panel.
“More than other schools, ours really tries to get the environment into the curriculum,” says Lauren Dick-Peddie, also a rising freshman and former member of the Eco Club.
Eco Club also participates in competitions, like the Northern Virginia Student Environmental Action Showcase and the Caring for Our Watershed Contest, where students can present their research-driven projects about their school’s efforts and meet with government officials and advocacy groups to discuss how to take environmental stewardship beyond the classroom and into the county, the state and beyond.
The school’s culture of sustainability has saturated its academic program with one goal in mind: to encourage environmental stewardship for generations to come. “Raising environmental, ethical, global citizens in today’s time is so important,” says Alam. “Everybody is on board with this. The entire Lanier faculty is thinking, ‘How can we reduce paper consumption? How can we intervene?’ We are a green school; it has become a philosophy in our way of thinking.”