Henrico schools ‘dot’ landscape in green

From left, Mary Greenlee and Chris Lundberg, Steward School teachers; Steward mentor Nina Zinn of Urban Backyard Edibles; Jonathan Gosney, Varina HS teacher; and Allison Powell, BCWH architect and Varina mentor.

Henrico schools took two of the five awards at the Second Annual Connect the Dots for Green Schools Awards Ceremony, hosted Nov. 10 by The Steward School. In addition to hosting the ceremony, Steward – winner of the second place Leadership Award – also provided a hard-hat tour of the Bryan Innovation Lab, a state-of-the-art instructional center slated for completion in the spring.

Sponsored by the James River Green Building Council (JRGBC), the Connect the Dots Green School Challenge encourages area schools to devise and implement creative, effective and low-cost sustainable practices for their schools and communities.

Schools team up with professional “green mentors,” who help the schools (the dots) connect to the resources in the local and national community as they promote community outreach and instill ideals of environmental stewardship in the students.

At the first Connect the Dots awards ceremony in 2011, for instance, Henrico’s Holman Middle School took the third place Leadership Award for its work on a water conservation project and a green curriculum for math and science classes, with assistance from mentor Carrie Webster of Moseley Architects.

Some 14 schools participated in the 2012 challenge, said Gwen Murray of JRGBC, with participants from Varina High School and The Steward School among those that earned special recognition awards for going “above and beyond” the basics.

Special recognition
Winner of the second-place Leadership Award, The Steward School (and mentor Nina Zinn of Urban Backyard Edibles) incorporated programs in composting into both the Lower School and Middle School curricula, holding poster contests for the younger students and composting workshops with the older. Older students learned what foods are needed to form good organic soil, and Upper School students built compost beds and analyzed organic material in the soil produced.

Varina H.S. took the third-place Leadership Award for devising a garden plan designed to help meet the needs of higher functioning students with autism and intellectual challenges.

The program includes plans for an edible classroom that will feature a bamboo fence, rainwater irrigation, nutritional education and a historical garden incorporating information about the area’s early Native Americans inhabitants. Mentors from BCWH Architects worked with Varina on projects and activities, including taking students on a field trip to Tricycle Gardens.

Among other participating schools that received special recognition at the ceremony were Bellevue Elementary School and the Patrick Henry School of Science and Arts in Richmond, and C.C.Wells Elementary School in Chesterfield County.

Bellevue E.S. won the first place Leadership Award for a project that converted an empty side yard into a learning space, and efforts in which parents, teachers and students worked together to build raised beds for gardening, install bh or bb and had rain barrel. working with teachers to implement in curriculum. Wells E.S. won the Community Outreach Award with help from members of the popular Ecology Club, which led efforts to hold a Beautification Day, plant bulbs and bushes, decorate trash cans for recycling, hold a recycling relay, and promote the creation of posters and eco-art made from recyclable objects.

Patrick Henry earned the Outstanding Sustainability Curriculum Award for establishing a gardening curriculum and activities that included a garden clean-up, planting bushes for a butterfly garden, and growing lettuce to be used to make fresh salads on selected school days.

Living classroom
Following the awards ceremony, Becky Lakin of sustainRVA described recent clean-up initiatives and events such as an EcoArt Exhibit, as well as plans for future programs that include a Farm-to-Restaurant Week. Lakin was followed by Steward Upper School science teacher Chris Lundberg, who capped off the ceremony by leading two dozen visitors through the Bryan Innovation Lab.

Plans for the Lab, said Lundberg, grew out of the desire to provide a “living classroom” -- a place for interdisciplinary, hands-on study that connects the built environment and the natural environment in a way that provides enhanced opportunities for students to explore and learn.

With current pushes toward sustainability, 21st-century schools, and the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math, said Lundberg, the premise behind the Bryan Innovation Lab was, “Wouldn’t it be neat if there was a building on campus where we could put all that together?”

The building exterior and its surroundings will include a green wall with growing plants, a covered patio, outdoor picnic pavilion, and doors that facilitate an easy flow between indoors and outdoors. On an adjacent storage building, students will construct a green roof. “[Students] can be outdoors one moment,” said Lundberg, “and the next moment be inside getting on their iPads.”

In a wooded area outside the building, an educational playground is planned that will feature such objects as simple machines, and perhaps a “musical contraption” that Lundberg saw in a Dutch building, in which rainfall creates music as it makes its way to the ground through a series of tubes.

The Lab’s entryway will feature an electronic dashboard so that students can see “what the building has been doing,” said Lundberg, whether they are at home or school. Students will be able to track output from passive solar devices, monitor data from the unit’s geothermal wells, and analyze the amount of roof run-off collected in underground cisterns (providing recyclable graywater for the building’s commodes).

While the Lab will be what Lundberg calls “a very spartan building – mostly steel and concrete,” students will be able to take advantage of that spartan interior to learn.

“The floor,” said Lundberg, “is just a concrete surface that was ground down to exposed aggregate . . . because it’s interesting for kids to see what’s in the cement.” In addition, interior beams will be exposed to display their numbers, helping students to understand how the building was put together; and ductwork will be color-coded so that students can visually track the flow of air.

Flexible design
The building is designed with relatively few fixed objects and extreme flexibility in mind, with classroom walls built on wheels and the ability to reconfigure smaller rooms into one multi-purpose room. Students will sit on wheeled ottomans that they can easily move. “Everything rolls away . . . [it’s designed] to get away from the traditional classroom,” said Lundberg, noting that with any luck, the multi-purpose room will be the site of the 2013 Connect the Dots Awards Ceremony. Another advantage of the flexible design, he said, is that it leaves room for changing technology, as well as the acquisition of funds that could allow expansion of the building.

In considering various design options for the Lab, representatives of Steward not only visited local models such as the VCU Rice Center and the Children’s Museum of Richmond but also crisscrossed the country, visiting sites from Massachusetts to California. “We wanted to see what people are doing with space instructionally,” said Lundberg, adding that architects at 3North and RVA Construction also contributed valuable feedback. “It’s really been a collaboration,” said Lundberg, “not ‘Here’s the idea, we build it, and there it is.’”

And just as the community has served as a resource for Steward, Steward officials hope the building will serve as a resource for the community, providing space for meetings and forums and hosting student tour guides to explain how the building works.

But most of all, said Lundberg, “the building we want to build is an innovative place for kids to learn, a mish-mash of the natural environment and the built environment, where students can discover their talents.

“We hope it will be a place where students have fun while they learn in non-traditional ways.”
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The Richmond Men’s Chorus and the Richmond Women’s Chorus will present a celebratory selection of holiday songs at 4 p.m. Dec. 4 and at 7 p.m. Dec. 6 at Ginter Park Presbyterian Church, 3601 Seminary Ave. Tickets are $10 to $15 in advance and $15 to $20 at the door. To purchase tickets, visit http://www.monumentcitymusic.org. Full text

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