By B.C. Manion
Learning Gate Community School is one of 78 schools nationwide named a Green Ribbon School, a new designation that honors environmental excellence.
The program recognizes schools that save energy, reduce costs, feature environmentally sustainable learning spaces, protect health, foster wellness, and offer environmental education to boost academic achievement and community engagement.
Learning Gate is the only school in the Tampa Bay region to receive the designation, the environmental counterpart to the nation’s Blue Ribbon School award, a prestigious honor that recognizes academic excellence. Awards were announced April 23 by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson.
Only three schools in Florida received the honor; the other two are in Miami-Dade and West Palm. Just eight public charter schools across the nation, including Learning Gate, were included in the inaugural group of Green Ribbon Schools. Florida is among 29 states and the District of Columbia with schools on the list.
Patti Girard, CEO and founder of Learning Gate Community School, was delighted by the honor.
“It’s great,” said Girard, who founded the school more than a quarter-century ago.
Girard is pleased that national leaders are encouraging schools to follow sustainable practices, so they can pass along those values to children as they grow up.
“They understand that we’ve got to teach it,” Girard said.
At Learning Gate, the school’s motto, “Nature is Our Best Teacher,” is played out in all sorts of ways across campus.
A visit to the campus on any given day will find children working in the school’s garden, tromping through the woods to observe birds being tagged for a research study, knocking over plastic liter bottles in a game of outdoor bowling or engaged in lessons in the first classrooms in the nation to receive platinum certification under the LEED for Schools rating system through the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.
State departments of education chose the nominees. Schools selected for the award create “green” environments by reducing environmental impact, promoting health, and ensuring high-quality environmental and outdoor education, according to national Green Ribbon program documents.
“Green Ribbon Schools demonstrate compelling examples of the ways schools can expand their coursework while also helping children build real world skill sets, cut school costs, and provide healthy learning environments,” Duncan said, in a news release.
More than 350 schools completed applications, which were submitted to state education agencies. Of those, state agencies submitted about 100 for consideration.
Schools receiving the designation include 66 public schools and 12 private schools.
High school public hearing
A hearing on a proposed special use permit for a school for sixth- through 12th-graders in Lutz is slated for 6 p.m. on May 14 at the Frederick B. Karl County Center at 601 E. Kennedy Blvd., in downtown Tampa. Learning Gate Community School wants to open a campus that will one day have about 1,000 students in grades six through eight at the site, which is near the intersection of US 41 and Sunset Lane in Lutz.