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Pathways to Green Schools

untitled.pngPromoting Green and Sustainable Schools in Pennsylvania

Every school in Pennsylvania can start on the path towards a more green and sustainable future.  Whether a school district is considering a renovation or construction project, reviewing operations and maintenance practices, planting a school garden, or updating curriculum, there is an opportunity to make our schools more cost-efficient, environmentally friendly and healthier places of learning.  Pennsylvania is a partner with the US Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools program to recognize US Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools, District Sustainability Awards, and Postsecondary Sustainability Awards.

US Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools Program

The aim of the US Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) is to inspire schools, districts and institutions of higher education to strive for 21st century excellence, by highlighting promising practices and resources that all can employ. To that end, the award recognizes schools, districts, and institutions of higher education that:

  • Reduce environmental impact and costs;
  • Improve the health and wellness of schools, students, and staff, and;
  • Provide environmental education, which teaches many disciplines, and is especially good at effectively incorporating STEM, civic skills, and green career pathways.

Combined progress in ALL three of these areas, collectively known as Pillars, serves as the basis for recognition. Each Pillar is divided into Elements, which provide further guidance on each of the three main areas. ED-GRS align with the Department's cross-cutting goals for education, including improving student, staff, and facility performance and increasing efficiency.  At the postsecondary level, these Pillars help to support the goals of reduced college costs, increased completion rates, higher rates of employment, and robust civic skills among graduates. The recognition award is to identify and communicate practices that result in improved student engagement, academic achievement, graduation rates, and workforce preparedness; and reinforces federal efforts to increase energy independence and economic security.

Encouraging resource efficient schools, districts, and institutions of higher education allows administrators to dedicate more resources to instruction rather than operational costs. Healthy schools and wellness practices ensure that all students learn in an environment conducive to achieving their full potential, free of the health disparities that can aggravate achievement gaps. Sustainability education helps all students engage in hands-on learning, hone critical thinking and collaboration skills, learn many disciplines, and develop a solid foundation in STEM subjects. It motivates postsecondary students in many disciplines, and especially those underserved in STEM subjects, to persist and graduate with sought after degrees and robust civic skills.

Pennsylvania is permitted to nominate as many as five Pre-K-12 schools or district to the USDE. If more than two schools are nominated, one must be a public school with a 40 percent disadvantaged population.  Additionally, Pennsylvania may nominate one institution of higher education for progress in all three Pillars. All schools, school districts, colleges, and universities, must meet college and career ready standards, be in compliance with federal civil rights laws, and comply with all federal, state, and local health and safety standards and regulations.  From the schools, districts, and institutions of higher education nominated by Pennsylvania, the USDE will announce all awardees on Earth Day, April 22, of each year.

Eligibility requirements by ED-GRS can be located on US Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools website.

PDE is teaming with Eco-Schools USA to develop different levels of sustainability in Pennsylvania's schools.  The levels will be determined at a later date.  The current levels of sustainability recognized by PDE are as follows:

  • Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) – Schools and institutions that have been recognized by USDE as Green Ribbon Schools
  • State Finalists – Schools and institutions that have been recognized for attaining high levels of sustainability at the state level and will be considered for the USDE Green Ribbon School award
  • Nominated Schools – Schools and institutions that have applied for ED-GRS

This website will provide you with information to attain ED-GRS status and provide high level facilities and programs for students, staff, and community.  We encourage you to begin the pathway to becoming a US Department of Education Green Ribbon School.

Contact the following individuals for more information:

Schools and School Districts – David A. Bauman:
Higher Education – Jennifer Muñoz Dugan:


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