White Bear Lake Area Schools may bleed orange and black on the field and in the gym, but when it comes to the earth, the district has been going green lately.
District staff and students related how the White Bear Lake community has been taking environmental strides at a White Bear School Board meeting Oct. 14. Following the district's recent strategic planning efforts, it has made it a goal to embed sustainability within the school district, reported Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Sara Paul.
“We are stewards of the earth,” she explained. Over the last few years, the district has been quietly making subtle yet significant changes.
“At the end of this week, six schools will generate power for buildings,” reported Operations Coordinator Dan Roeser. Solar installations have been put up at Oneka, Willow, Birch, Lakeaires and Matoska elementary schools, and Sunrise Park Middle School. The district hopes to begin educational programs regarding solar power in the future.
The district has put LED lighting in all secondary gyms and larger parking lots, Roeser added. The switch saves on maintenance costs. “Now with the LEDs, they are pretty much maintenance-free for the next 15 years,” he noted. “In the building operations department we are always looking for ways to make our school more sustainable, and we are also looking to try to save a few bucks,” Roeser explained.
The district has also become one of the few school districts that has been able to sustain a Food to Hogs program through BizRecycling, he added. Through the program, the district recycles organic food waste. There has also been a push for other types of recycling in the district and students help with sorting. “We have become a model program around the Twin Cities for waste and recycling,” Roeser said. “The biggest difference why these programs are working in our school is students.”
School Board Student Liaison Madison Carroll said the labeling the district has done has helped students participate. “I've noticed a lot of kids in classrooms actively recycling their extra papers,” she said.
Students have also been involved with water conservation at their schools, Carroll added. Groundwater conservation assessments have been done at Vadnais and Matoska elementary schools. Matoska Water Warriors students worked with Ramsey and Anoka County environmental resource specialists to measure school water usage.
High school student Sophie Davis said she learned about water conservation from a young age through the district's Race to Reduce educational program, in partnership with H20 for Life. She learned about the local and global significance with low water levels in White Bear Lake and water shortages in developing countries, she said.
“I realized the importance of water and how much we take it for granted,” she said. Now, she testifies at the Legislature for water conservation and she is working with Trane to help develop energy-efficient automation systems in the district, as part of the manufacturing pathways program.
White Bear Lake City Manager Ellen Hiniker said the city has been partnering with the district to go green. Earlier this year, the city joined Climate Smart Municipalities, a partnership between six cities in Minnesota and Germany, facilitated through the University of Minnesota. The program aims to work together to transition energy use and use green technology. The district partnered with the city regarding school programs. Classes are analyzing and exchanging weather data, she noted.
The city and district have also been working together on a potential pilot study for an automated vehicle (AV) shuttle in White Bear Lake for the elderly and disabled. The grant application is currently being finalized and the city should hear within a month if it received the grant. The pilot study would be in partnership with 14 area organizations.