Composting, beehives, veggie gardens: Local schools get federal attention for environmental efforts

KIRKWOOD • At Keysor Elementary School, stenciled diagrams that depict yoga poses decorate sidewalk paths through an outdoor area devoted to nature and sustainability. The Kirkwood High football team painted the “downward dog,” “cobra” and similar images this summer.

Keysor also features a prairie area of native plants created in 2012 by third-graders who did a “seed stomp.” There are five rain gardens to absorb water runoff, a monarch butterfly way station, a bee house and a bird sanctuary.

Students in the Kirkwood district school eat vegetables they grow on site. Other gardens at the school focus on the senses — lavender and lemon balm are among the plants sprouting in the area devoted to smell, fuzzy lamb’s ear grows in the touch garden, and blueberries and strawberries can be found in the taste section.

Keysor is the district’s smallest campus, and more than half its green space is dedicated to water-efficient and “regionally appropriate” plants.

“We’re landlocked, so we have to be very thoughtful in everything we do,” said Principal Alyssa Taylor as she helped lead a tour Thursday showcasing the school’s green efforts.

Keysor is one of nine St. Louis-area schools that have been designated as <a href="";d=DwMFAg&amp;c=UCja3IwhyjPGYeHcG7oIbg&amp;r=PDZ8Nc-L6CslbMH8Xq3Oo0LiDXy1lPTabSUfy19X8og&amp;m=YUK1M6cg-NzqsbdzuYPIttLv_zmHWDta6oUjfkTjUXw&amp;s=_QJ8qvxpD_IbUSfvQqOovxpn1xotmNQm-wJkIEG2jTw&amp;e=""> target="_blank">Green Ribbon</a> schools by the U.S. Department of Education and featured on its Green Strides tour. The federal program recognizes schools that reduce environmental impact and costs, improve health and wellness, as well as provide effective environmental and sustainability education.

Other schools featured on the two-day tour this week were Parkway School District’s <a href="";DomainID=35&amp;ModuleInstanceID=63&amp;ViewID=6446EE88-D30C-497E-9316-3F8874B3E108&amp;RenderLoc=0&amp;FlexDataID=66036&amp;PageID=63&amp;GroupByField=&amp;GroupYear=0&amp;GroupMonth=0&amp;Tag=&amp;Comments=true"">;DomainID... target="_blank">Bellerive, McKelvey and Green Trails</a> elementary schools, as well as Parkway North High School; the College School in Webster Groves; Maplewood-Richmond Heights Middle School; St. Louis University High School and Crossroads College Preparatory School in St. Louis.

Green-ribbon status is not a certification or grant program, but rather a way to spotlight good work in the hope that other schools are inspired to examine what they can do to increase such learning efforts, which also often reduce energy costs, said Andrea Suarez Falken, the Green Schools director who came to St. Louis from Washington. Others on the tours included Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education officials, as well as those from local groups and schools.

At Keysor, much of its green work has been going on for years, such as an effort to reduce the amount of lunch waste that goes to landfills, where about 2,340 bags of trash landed each school year.

The school now uses compostable trays. Students sort cafeteria waste into recycling, compost and landfill bins. Landfill trash has been reduced from 13 bags a day to two — an 85 percent drop.

Incorporating nature into learning is a key part of the award as well.

In Maplewood, seventh-graders use their garden to learn geometry, said Melissa Breed-Parks, the seed-to-table garden coordinator. They calculate the area of the garden and the volume of compost bins to determine the amount of compost needed and how many plants they can fit in the garden.

And at SLU High, students and staff on Thursday showed off their gardens and compost operations, as well as hydroponics and energy-saving setups, a beehive and a car built by its Super Mileage Club that averaged 219 miles per gallon.

The private school also was recognized for offering Advanced Placement environmental science classes for more than a decade, with 12 percent of graduating students participating, and for subject assignments with themes such as mountaintop removal, invasive species, coral bleaching and alternative energy development.