The New Jersey Department of Education is pleased to announce that the Green Ribbon Schools selection committee, comprised of the Department, the Educational Information and Resource Center (EIRC), New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA), New Jersey Association of School Administrators (NJASA), New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), Project Learning Tree – Green Schools, New Jersey Audubon, United States Green Building Council – NJ, and the Alliance for New Jersey Environmental Education, has selected the following schools for recognition as a 2012 New Jersey Green Ribbon Schools:
The Willow School, Gladstone New Jersey, Private School
Midtown Community Elementary School, Neptune Township Public Schools
Alder Avenue Middle School, Egg Harbor Township Public Schools
Bernards High School, Somerset Hills School District
Additionally, these schools’ names will be submitted by the Department to the U.S. Department of Education as New Jersey’s nominees for recognition as a Green Ribbon School at the national level.
The winning schools were formally recognized by Deputy Commissioner of Education Andrew Smarick at the very first New Jersey Sustainable Schools Conference in Monroe, on March 28th, 2012 as detailed in the Department’s January 30th, 2012 broadcast.
A round of applause for these schools and thanks to all of the schools that applied! We recognize your great efforts!
Green Ribbon Schools Summary of Achievement
The Willow School, a small, independent coeducational day school for students in kindergarten through eighth grade, is committed to combining academic excellence and the joy of learning and to experiencing the wonder of the natural world. Mastery of the English language is an essential element in an integrated curriculum that helps students comprehend the patterns of how things are connected and prepares them for all areas of their secondary education. The school is dedicated to maintaining an environment where respect for the individual, an outstanding faculty, and an understanding of place foster independent thinking, creativity, responsibility, and integrity. The Willow School education enables children to develop an ethical approach to all relationships, to realize their full potential, and to believe in their power to effect positive change.
The Willow School: A Brief Institutional Profile of “The Little Green Schoolhouse”
The Willow School ([ http://www.willowschool.org/ ]www.willowschool.org) – founded in 2000 by Mark and Gretchen Biedron – serves students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. As its mission statement makes clear, the school is committed to fostering academic excellence, a passion for learning, and the development of an ethical approach to all relationships – including humanity’s relationship to the natural world, of which it is both a constituent part and chief steward. The inimitable education offered by the school enables children to acquire the skills, knowledge, and disposition they will need to think critically and creatively and become contributing citizens in a complex, challenging, and ever-changing world. It would be exceedingly fair to say, in fact, that The Willow School’s approach represents a balance uncommon in today’s world of Pre-K—8 education – in which we navigate an appropriate course, as it were, between the high-pressured scholastic environment in which the nurturing of students is ignored and the irresponsible pedagogy that primarily seeks to make students feel good about themselves but ultimately neglects traditional academics.
Although not originally intending to “go green”, the school recognized the inextricable link between human virtue and ecology. From the virtues program, which was designed to mentor the ethical relationships between humans, grew the commitment to cultivating that same type of ethical relationship between humans and the natural world and to developing a sense of personal stewardship and love for the earth. Indeed, a unique and truly outstanding feature of The Willow School’s mission is its approach to the ecology of our environment. A core tenet of the school’s guiding educational philosophy is that community – understood as the relationships between and among human beings as well as between human beings and the rest of the natural world – operates as both the source and ultimate point of acquiring knowledge. That is to say, education is necessary because we live in communities and must therefore know how to communicate and cooperate with one another; these skills enable us, in turn, to work toward making our communities healthier and more just. Our teachers thus seek to develop each student’s intellectual, artistic, social, emotional, and physical potential, not as an end in itself, but in order to help him or her develop a mature understanding of how humans relate to one another and the natural environment. Students at all levels are encouraged to be aware of their natural surroundings and to take care of those surroundings by participating in them.
Several national organizations have cited the school’s integrated commitment both to sustainable building design and to a K-8 curriculum informed by sustainability as a replicable model for reforming elementary and secondary education, both private and public. Spurred on by the United Nations’ declaration that we have now entered the decade of “education for sustainable development,” the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), recently determined to pursue a bold new initiative in education for sustainability. Introduced at its 2004 annual conference in Montreal, this initiative served as the main theme of the 2005 conference in San Diego. At this conference, The Willow School was described to the more than 5,000 attendees as “the prototype school other institutions will need to follow in order to accomplish the tasks of the 21st century and beyond.” The National Geographic’s “Green Guide” ranked The Willow School as the nation’s second greenest school for its progressive integration of sustainable design initiatives into the campus and the curriculum and the Travel Channel’s Show, “Extreme Green” recognized The Willow School as the most eco-friendly school in the continental United States.
The Willow School seeks to develop each child’s intellectual, artistic, social, emotional, and physical potential through a comprehensive interdisciplinary curriculum. Children’s natural intellectual curiosity is fostered as they acquire the skills, knowledge, and analytic tools needed for advanced levels of thinking and reasoning. This project of educating the whole person also encompasses forming in our students the “habits of the heart” that enable them to live virtuously, to work toward making their communities healthier and more just, to consider and appreciate the beauty and wonders of nature, and to relate to their natural environment as stewards rather than conquerors.
It is thus clear that the work being done at our school, even at this early stage of its life, is already generating significant benefits – not only for the students, parents, faculty and staff of The Willow School and our neighbors in the region, but for schools and communities throughout the United States. We are justifiably proud of our accomplishments thus far and take quite seriously our self-appointed charge to serve as a true model and a “green beacon” of a sustainable future for K-8 education.