Green Ribbon Schools Award Nominee for Schools District Sustainability Award:
Lower Merion School District

Lower Merion School District (LMSD) is fully committed to environmental stewardship as a core value of the school community--both in day-to-day operations and educational programming.  LMSD was among the first districts in Pennsylvania to incorporate a comprehensive strategic energy plan as part of its overall strategic plan, with the long-term goal of meeting complete criteria established in “LEED for Existing Buildings” by 2013.

Since 1995, LMSD has been a leader in the use of alternative fuels.  As the first school district in Pennsylvania to add compressed natural gas (CNG) to the fleet, LMSD today boasts the largest fleet of CNG school buses on the East Coast.  The District has won numerous national awards, and was recognized by the U.S. Department of Energy as “Pennsylvania’s primary success story for alternative fuels.”

LMSD believes effective green, sustainable practice begins with its greatest resource – its students, staff and administrators.  District administrators, in collaboration with the Green Council of LMSD – a cadre of concerned staff, students, parents and community members – developed a Comprehensive Environmental Impact Reduction Plan (CEIRP) to provide ongoing use of best practices in areas of Energy, Solid Waste, Water, Soil and Conservation Management, Air Quality Management, Purchasing Policies, and Integrated Pest Management.

Reducing environmental impact and costs also includes the buildings.  The District recently completed a capital improvement program, fully-modernizing all ten of its schools—with its two high schools built to LEED-Silver certified standards.  Because of these efforts to build energy efficient buildings with energy management systems, LMSD recently received a $141,000 rebate from PECO for participation in the Smart Ideas/Smart Construction Initiative.

LMSD begins efforts to improve student and staff health through a comprehensive, nationally-recognized Green Cleaning Program, selected by American Schools & University as one of only four districts nationwide for its extensive efforts to maintain safe and healthy learning and working environments.  More than 80% of the annual cleaning budget is earmarked for the most environmentally friendly or preferable alternatives, applied using innovative best-practices to improve overall indoor air quality; reduce exposure to harmful contaminants; reduce particle, chemical and moisture residue from cleaning; and to minimize waste and impact on the environment.  Furthering these efforts, LMSD’s health services team is responsible for year round first aid and health counseling to all students and staff as well as managing the District’s School Health Advisory Council (SHAC), a team of individuals who meet regularly to address health issues in the community.  The SHAC collaborates across sectors to produce a variety health and wellness initiatives from school nutrition programs to a District-wide community garden project. Launched in partnership with the American Cancer Society, SHAC is viewed as Pennsylvania’s model for school/community health partnerships.

From the time students enter LMSD as kindergartners until the time they graduate, every effort is made in every class to build a deep appreciation and understanding of the natural world along with heavy integration of STEM-related topics.  Students at the elementary level experience nature first-hand and build a deep appreciation of the natural world during community-based learning projects.  Middle school students participate in stimulating interdisciplinary programs that incorporate sustainability through design challenges like “It’s Not Easy Being Green” where they develop innovative solutions to relevant, real-world environmental problems. Environmental education and STEM-initiatives are second-to-none at the high school level where students choose from a wide array of AP, honors, and college prep “green” courses, and take advantage of our state-of-the-art learning facilities – from the greenhouses and solar panels to the Harriton Meadows and Watershed - furthering students’ knowledge and appreciation of sustainability concepts.

While LMSD features dynamic curricular programming, the passion for this subject extends beyond the classroom and school day.  Last year, LMSD launched the Sustainability Expo/Go Green Challenge with local-green friendly organizations, vendors and companies (PECO, Air Quality Partnerships, Clean Air Council) to help educate students and community members on environmental resources available to improve air quality, as well as future careers in “green” industry.  The competition tasked students to develop and execute an innovative idea to address an environmental concern in the community. 

A further measure of success is expressed in the breadth and popularity of co-curricular STEM opportunities.  Nearly 20% of secondary students are actively involved in Technology Student Association (TSA), Science Olympiad and FIRST Robotics. Harriton’s Science Olympiad – winner of fifteen consecutive state championships – furthers students’ knowledge on sustainable concepts like forestry, meteorology and water quality. LM’s robotics program is regarded as one of the nation’s finest. District TSA teams have made their mark at the state and national level while working on various sustainability projects after school hours. The National TSA is also president is a senior at Harriton High School.

In all, LMSD has earned national recognition for its use of Compressed Natural Gas for fleet operations, and has one of the most advanced curriculum programs designed to incorporate energy efficiency programs and environmental awareness into the STEMP initiatives and courses.  Their work across multiple buildings has reduced energy usage and related operational costs, and provides numerous best practices for district sustainability.