Not content with covering just the basics of recycling, a number of schools in New York City and nationwide are taking a comprehensive approach to teaching environmentalism.

A growing number of “green” schools are incorporating lessons on the environment into most coursework, reports the New York Times.

“Green is not just the environment,” said Jennifer Auceda, a student at the Green School in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. “It’s politics, government, social justice,” she told the newspaper.

Although it is hard to say how many “green” schools exist, the Green Charter Schools Network, in Madison, Wisconsin, counts 200 charter schools as members. In part thanks to state grants that focus on environmental education, a loose network of green schools has formed. Groups like the Sierra Club and the National Wildlife Foundation have provided lesson plans and money for field trips.

“It’s also mainstream public schools that are taking this on,” said Randall E. Solomon, executive director of the New Jersey Sustainable State Institute at Rutgers University.

In New York City, at least 11 green schools have opened in the past six years, including the Growing Up Green Charter School and the Urban Assembly School for Green Careers.

In Los Angeles, the Environmental Charter High School’s focus on environment hits home in the poor community it draws from, which is affected by air pollution and contamination from industrial sites. “It can’t just be a rich person’s desire to be green,” said Alison Suffet Diaz, the school’s founder.

While some schools emphasize environmental sciences or civic involvement, the Urban Assembly School in New York is a high school focused on job skills related to green building and design, with students learning how to install insulation and solar panels.

“We’ve got some schools investing in the skills kids need to compete,” said Gregg Betheil, who heads the Office of Postsecondary Pathways and Planning at the city’s Department of Education. “No way is this a fad.”

At the Green School, students record public service announcements about smoking and pollution, and they chart maps of trees and garbage receptacles to use in geometry class.

Still, some students are a bit wary. Jose Chirino, a sophomore at the Green School, said his teachers are “experimenting on us.” But even he admitted: “We do a lot of things other schools are not doing,” and “I feel like we’re doing something important.”

And the lessons are hitting home. At the Growing Up Green school, a recent screening of Wall-E, about a robot that collects garbage, gave first-graders a new perspective on climate change. “All the people were gone because they littered so much,” said Lawless Morse, 6. “That’s why we reduce, reuse and recycle.”

Green classrooms
Moving beyond basic lessons on recycling, ‘green’ schools are incorporating lessons about the environment into most coursework.