Aaron Perry


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Stewardship & Sustainability Series
Episode 15 - Dr. Ghita Carroll & Greening Schools

Dr. Gita Carroll, Sustainability Coordinator for the Boulder Valley School District in Colorado, discusses the tremendous opportunities for impact that schools and school districts (aka “communities”) have for environmental stewardship and the cultivation of health and well-being! Ghita discusses the district’s “Traveling Green Trophy” for school gardens, green building, climate readiness, purchasing and waste mitigation, and community partnerships – which are all key to cultivating a more sustainable world together. As a devoted mother, she also shares the at-home practices of getting outside, gardening, hauling water, and composting, and tells us of the joy of these simple lifestyle choices – inviting us to JOIN THE PARTY!


(Automatically generated transcript for search engine optimization and reference purposes – grammatical and spelling errors may exist.)

Hi, friends. Welcome to another edition of the YonEarth Communities Stewardship and

Sustainability Podcast Series. And today we have the great honor and privilege of speaking

with Dr. Ghita Levinstein Carroll Haikita. Hi, Aaron. Great to see you. Great to see you too.

Geeta is the sustainability coordinator for the Boulder Valley School District in Colorado. She is

a pioneer in advancing district-level sustainability planning and initiatives and her award-winning work

has touched tens of thousands of students and future leaders. Dr. Carroll successes include defining

a vision and goals for district-wide environmental sustainability, receiving board of education

approval for a policy that supports sustainability initiatives, and significantly increasing

renewable energy technologies, green building design strategies, and environmental awareness

throughout the district. She received a PhD in environmental studies from the University of

Colorado Boulder. And Ghita had such a joy to have this opportunity to speak with you today. And

one of the things I’m most excited to discuss with you and share with our audience is that

you’ve been really in the trenches, you could say, in a school district making incredible transformation.

What if I might ask, what has been motivating you doing that work over the past several years?

Oh, well, I mean, all of it. It’s very motivational and inspiring work to be doing,

it’s particularly in the arena of education. So I did work at CU and Hire doing this work for

about seven years before this job. And I’ve been here for 10 years. And it seems to me it’s the

heart of the movement and the heart of where all this work takes place. So I feel very fortunate to

be doing work that I am passionate about in an area where, you know, it’s such a perfect fit.

I think, you know, sustainability and just learning to be good stewards of our resources,

first aware of our resources and how our everyday actions are linked to our planet and then being

able to pass this on and create a generation of kids who are really thinking about this from the

start and experience. It’s absolutely wonderful and it’s so great to be able to share your

story with our audience. And, you know, I’m struck by the position that you’re in means you are

interacting with and really working for so many different stakeholders, right? You’ve got the

Board of Education and others within the actual management structure of the school district. You’ve

got, of course, a whole bunch of teachers, educators. And then you’ve got hundreds, thousands of

students and their parents and families. I mean, it’s an incredible nexus point really for this

whole regional community, right? Oh, yeah, absolutely. And does that sometimes introduce

complexities? Would you say? Oh, yes. There’s a lot of, a lot of players and a lot of competing

priorities. And it had, you know, to really fully integrate sustainability into our system,

it needs to happen at all levels. So I was, you know, sort of brought in at the administrative

level where we started by creating our sustainability plan and getting and board support for that,

which was really important work. But meanwhile, there has been, there has been recycling at our schools

for, you know, more than two decades and there had been work on the maintenance level to move

toward more efficient lighting and, and our purchasing level to start purchasing paper with

with hybrid cycle content. So it happens, it needs to happen in all places. There’s not one

area where you can check out the box and then you’ve solved the problem. Yeah, you like,

I’d say good, we’re done. We’re done. Yeah, there’s so much incrementally and even sometimes in

terms of really big steps that can happen and probably needs to happen. Yeah.

Say if you were looking back over the last 10 years that you’ve been doing the work you’re doing,

what would you say are one or two of the accomplishments that you feel most proud of or that you feel

have been really most innovative or impactful in the, in the history? Yeah. Well, when I started

this work a 10 years ago, really the first thing we did was to kind of recognize all the awesome

things that were going on. Again, kind of at the district level. So while schools had been

engrossed at a lot of these activities, there wasn’t really a kind of district level commitment to

recognizing and prioritizing that work. And then we created our sustainability management system

which is our plan for incorporating sustainability into operations and and curriculum. And I think

that was really the right place to start given where we were to give the opportunity at a high level

to again, kind of recognize the work, coordinate as an organizational system around the work that we

had in this part of creating that plan. We brought in community members, we brought in staff,

we brought in maintenance teachers, students, the University of Colorado Boulder and other local

partners who are also working toward integrating sustainability and partners like EcoCycle,

who are working to support the work through partnerships. So it gave us that opportunity to just

align what we were doing and create meaningful and measurable goals. So it was the first time we had

you know our maintenance people talking with people from CU about things like

net zero energy or being climate ready as an organization. So it was it was pretty groundbreaking

and a great place to start for that reason. So our sustainability plan we decided

the most important areas for us to focus on were our buildings. So how we were operating and

in our construction program what types of things we were doing to incorporate

sustainability materials. So that looks at what we’re purchasing all the way to our waste

of version efforts. Transportation, so how our community is getting to and from our schools and

how we’re supporting sustainable transportation. And then of course education, which is the heart of

what we’re doing and you know creating opportunities for green teams in the school, integrating

sustainability into curriculum and also under education includes how we’re communicating about

sustainability. So once we had this plan it allowed us to do things like you know in our monthly

newsletter now to staff we have a sustainability column and things like that go a long way just in

terms of kind of how it’s integrated into the culture as an important priority for this.

So that’s one thing I would say is you know I’m proud of and I think it was the right place for us

to start and really laid the groundwork for our direction we wanted to go. It’s really amazing.

Outline framework that you’ve created and are working in. I imagine that could be useful to

some others in other communities that are in similar positions or perhaps even thinking about

creating similar positions that would help their school districts. You know I’m struck by the way

how many about how many schools are in the district. I don’t know that number. You have 56 schools. 56.

That’s really cool. And I’m struck by your mention of the collaborative relationship with the

university and I imagine for many other communities out there they may be able to similarly

partner with a university that is nearby or reasonably close by for them to leverage off of

and and take advantage of some of the resources and capabilities that might exist at that

institution. It sounds like that’s been part of your strategy. Absolutely. I mean partnerships in

general are a huge part of why we’ve had the success that we’ve had here. But it is unique

where any university town and I absolutely agree that you know I think that higher ed is maybe

a little bit further along than K12 although we’re catching up in terms of our thinking around

sustainability and planning for it. So they can be a great partner in that way and that they might

already done some of the thinking and work and can help support that. And then even to the level

of that you know every semester I have interns from the university who help support this work

too. So you know one of the barriers in the time and money but I’m able to partner with the

university and they get college credit and help you know do the work actually here in K12 and

give them experience. So it’s on so many levels it’s been remarkable collaborative efforts.

We university. That’s beautiful. That’s so beautiful to hear. So I have to ask because as I think

you’re aware many of us in the why on earth community ecosystem have a real passion for soil

gardening and that aspect of cultivating stewardship regeneration and health and well-being in our

lives. So just curious in addition to it sounds like you’ve done a lot of curriculum related work

for inside the classroom are you seeing students in the district getting out and hands in soil

out to nature forests whatever it might be? Absolutely. We are seeing more and more opportunities

around that and I think that that’s you know exactly where you need to start when you’re dealing

with K12 students is getting them outdoors and connecting with nature and you know they’re

inherently excited in support of you know doing that kind of thing so it’s a wonderful fit.

So we have gardens and I think about two thirds of our schools so that’s one example of how

we’re connecting kids outdoors and in a lot of our schools are again working with community partners

who really integrate that garden into the curriculum and to their learning making sure that all

the students are getting out at some point hopefully multiple times during the year and working

in the garden. In most cases we are being able to use some of the food in the garden and in our

lunchroom where our food service program is amazing and has done a lot in support of eating local

food and fresh foods and we’re not only working with the gardens that taking field trips to

local farmers and learning where the food comes from and grows and having a chance to chat with

the farmers. I think it’s one case it’s farmers have come into the lunchroom where the kids have

gotten to meet the farmers who are actually growing the food so really a lot of exciting work happening

there. Through our bonding construction program we’ve been able to create some outdoor learning

spaces in some of our schools and that’s a really cool way you know school some of them are actually

classrooms that are outdoors that could be used as and some of them are just you know cool spaces

that kids can use and explore during free time but really important and and our partners I mean

we we have really exciting opportunities for schools or example all of our second graders have

an opportunity to go to Simbrero Marsh which is nearby and located and they get to learn about

wetlands and the water cycle and they have an amazing view of actually where the water is coming

from from this community when they’re there and other you know other really cool opportunities so

again not to say that we have it nailed and it’s as integrated as we would like but it’s a really

important piece of work. That’s so wonderful to hear. Yeah. Are you getting on your end in the

audio? I don’t think so. Are you? If it’s not showing up on your end I’m not going to

okay. So let me ask in the years that you’ve been doing this I mean it sounds like you’ve

had so many beautiful successes on so many levels and I’ve got almost a page full of notes here

that I’ve taken as you’ve been talking. What what have been some of the challenges? What what might

you be bumping into now or in the recent past that you hope will be resolved going forward?

Yeah. Well I think the challenges in general come down to challenges that a lot of missioners

might have is the just time and money. So for example we’re in the middle of a huge bonding

construction program right now and we are so fortunate that the community has passed and voted

to give money to support construction and improvements in our schools but we the money was passed

the bond was passed several years ago and already it’s a very different market than when

when the projects were defined. So budgets are very tight and we have a lot of competing priorities

here at the school district all very important. So when it gets down to it you know we might not

be able to fund the best you know most efficient heating ventilation and cooling system for

school because we have to make the choice to use the one that has less upfront cost even though

you know in the long term that might be a more efficient solution. So we have to make hard

decisions like that and with unlimited money we could create I think amazing facilities that

net zero energy and ample daylighting and access to the outdoors you know but we are doing a lot

but I think we could go even further money was an issue. Yeah so that’s an ongoing challenge

and then I think you know time just time and support. So like I said at the beginning there’s no

one box you can check to make this happen and you’re done and it really takes champions everywhere

at all levels. So we’ve come up with some really exciting programs like our shared energy savings

program where schools can voluntarily sign up to basically compete to reduce energy so they

commit to auditing their school taking some follow-up action and we provide them tools for doing

this educating their schools and then actually competing to reduce energy so we have a dashboard

where they can see live energy data they can see how they’re doing and it gives the kids and the

teachers all involved in exciting ways and they come up with things that we would not come up with.

But we could have a great program but if there isn’t somebody at the schools you know to take

this on or really support it it’s not going to go anywhere so you know having and the schools

have an enormous amount but they need to accomplish in every day you know just meeting the standards

and testing and you know there’s a lot of priorities that are very important but it’s you know

there’s only so much time in the day. So yeah.

I’ll show you a little bit of an aberrating as you’re saying within the community where the

school district is situated has been a really important strength in all of these efforts

and I’m struck that you recently shared with me this organization greenapple greenapple.org

and the way in which they are helping to connect wonderful projects and leadership

in communities all over and I looked at the website greenapple.org I’d really encourage

the audience please check it out there’s a lot there in terms of the programs they’re highlighting

days of service days of action but tell tell me how has green apple been an important resource

to you and how are you seeing it getting traction and utilization in communities all over the place?

Yeah well I think it’s there’s awesome resource it does a lot of things it helps recognize the

great work that’s going on at students and at schools and it helps connect communities and so

people can see that it’s not just their school they’re schools doing this all over the world at

this point I think it’s an international resource it does provide on some limited basis some

grant funds that schools can apply for to get chicks start some of these things so I think

you know we’re in a place now with the with the green schools network and there’s a national

green schools conference where there’s more resources than I’ve seen to kind of support and

recognize these efforts and help get them off the ground no matter where you are and you know it

also provides examples so if you don’t happen to have composting hauler in your community that

doesn’t mean that there aren’t things that you could get started to support composting or

recognizing that food waste is an issue in your school and so you can see how people are handling

these types of things and all different types of things so it’s really really great and powerful

tool. So wonderful I noticed on their on their website they encourage folks to share projects by

shouting out via social media using the hashtag green apple day so it’s hashtag green apple day

to get connected in with some of the programming that they have going on. Yeah that’s great yeah

and they’ve already affected three and a half million students 900,000 volunteers 80 countries

it looks like they’re active in so what an amazing resource for folks to know about and take

advantage of. Absolutely. Well let me ask you something else Geeta so I know you have a very busy day

as the sustainability coordinator for a district with 56 schools and you’re also a mother.

Yeah. You have two school aged kids. Tell me if we were to take a walk in the day of the life of Geeta

so what does it look like for you when you’re not working and with the family and how is sustainability

woven into the fabric of your overall. Yeah well we love to get outside as a family and again I

think that’s the starting point and that’s where you know if you’re going to be passionate about

this area that’s where it’s got to start is the connection to the outdoors so we take family

walks. We go on family bike rides we have a garden at our home that the kids are responsible for

watering and then we help harvest and you integrate that into what we’re eating. Yeah we I mean

we live in a community where we are able to recycle and compost at home and because they’re also

calling that out and each week for when it’s trash day and compost day.

Yeah but it’s I my kids go to school in the district where I work so they’re always asking me

you know how their school compares. Are they the greenest and are they doing an okay job?

So they like to share about programs that we’re working on in technical schools like

putting in water bottle fillers to make it easier to refill water bottles or being a green star

school where they can compost at school and then it’s always fun when I’m there for a program

giving a presentation and right to the audience. Well that’s a nice thing I think of the

really beneficial form of competition that can kick in with even at a very young age to have

this sense of hey how is our school performing relative to others for example in a beautiful way

to tune the kids into an aspirational framework that is for the benefit of the community,

the environment in the broader world. Yeah yeah we actually just this year I’m pretty excited

we’re launching green report cards so we have a green report card that the schools haven’t seen yet

but where we just noted all the areas where whether they have a garden and an active green team

and what their energy use level is and again it’s like Green Apple Day to just really recognize

the great work that’s happening in the schools and then give them an opportunity to increase the

that’s so wonderful I don’t I don’t want to put you on the spot but I’m curious are the criteria

that you’re using for the green report cards available is that something you guys will make available?

Absolutely yeah what a great additional resource that others could look at and perhaps emulate.

Yeah yeah and I think I mean you know recognizing the work is great I had to have our shared

savings program where the winners now do get a portion back of their electricity savings but we

also have this traveling trophy where we’ve been doing this for eight years so if you win you get

your name on it this is our first winner of Apple Campus and then our winner last year was

Heatherwood Elementary so you get your name on it you get to keep it for the year and then I get it

back and I have it now because we’re in between school years so little things like this I think

can go a long way you know this isn’t expensive or hard to do and it’s something that you know

the schools are excited about and once they win it they’re they want to work hard the next year

to keep it again so it’s a great way to recognize yeah certainly educators and parents know that

recognizing achievement and reinforcing that kind of behavior is one of the keys to moving

you know in the direction we want to be moving right? Absolutely yeah and I would say you know where you

can join the party instead of create your own party so you know if it’s schools already having an

event come to that to be able to share the sustainability efforts instead of trying to create a

whole new thing just because as we talked about time and resources are tight so that’s a good way

to integrate into what’s already going on excuse me right there. I love that that’s a beautiful

beautiful message with that I might just take a quick minute to remind our audiences that this

is the why on earth communities stewardship and sustainability podcast series and we are talking

today with Dr. Geeta Carroll the sustainability coordinator for the Boulder Valley School District

in Colorado and I want to be sure to mention that folks can connect with you and your work

using Twitter at Green BVSD for Boulder Valley School District so that’s at Green BVSD and

for any of you folks who would like to take advantage of some really special Groovy deals and

discounts on the why on earth ebooks and audiobook products be sure to use the code podcast

when you go to why on earth.org slash market we’ve got a lot of great resources for you there and

hope you’ll take advantage of that my goodness this whole notion of joining the party and not trying

to recreate parties on our own is one that shows up for me in a bunch of different circles whether

I’m speaking with educators professionals consultants even even parents right and grandparents

and it seems to me in part because of the amazing communication technology is another tools

that we have at our disposal Geeta that we really do have this opportunity to do more and more

and more collaborating and layering of collaboration in our communities. Absolutely yeah there’s so

much there that I think that we can just build on and engage in and so it doesn’t have to be

intimidating it’s you know it’s it’s happening and we can we can all jump in and be part of it.

Yeah absolutely that’s so fun. Well I want to invite you to share any any last thoughts or

perhaps even words of advice to other you know professionals and parents folks who might be working

in school districts as well specifically is there anything that you’d like to share with folks?

Yeah I mean I think it’s just that there’s a growing amount of support and network out there

that people can can tap into so the the Department of Education has a recognition program for

schools and districts doing this work and the Center for Green Schools has scholarships that

can help support sustainability professionals in schools and districts to do this work.

So you know more than ever I think there’s you know opportunities to engage there’s a the

National Green Schools conference is taking place in Minneapolis this spring and that’s an

opportunity to bring together thought leaders and on the ground heroes that are kind of working

every day to bring civilian action schools so it’s it’s a great time to get involved and you know

you don’t have to be a parent or in the schools to be able to help support a programmer the work that’s

going on. Awesome thank you Ghita well and I also want to mention before we sign off that

folks can learn more about the work you’re doing at the Boulder Valley School District

on the web at bdsd.org slash green yeah a lot of wonderful links and resources there as well.

Awesome yeah we have links to our our sustainability plans on that website and then resources

both local and nationally and a lot of other information about our program so great place to start

thank you. Well oh my goodness Ghita it’s been so great connecting with you today and thank you

for taking time out of your busy schedule to share this with folks my my profound hope is that

folks and communities all over will benefit from some of your recommendations and the example in

the in the work that you’ve been doing for several years now so thank you. Thank you so much for the

opportunity. Appreciate it. Take care. You too.

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