Becoming a U.S. Department of Education National Green Ribbon District

Jodi Crimmins

This fall, we had the privilege to represent Oak Harbor Public Schools in Washington D.C. where we were honored as a 2019 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School District Sustainability Awardee. Across the country, 35 schools, 14 districts, and four postsecondary institutions were honored for their innovative efforts to reduce environmental impact and utility costs, improve health and wellness, and ensure effective sustainability education. 

It was an excellent opportunity to be inspired by all of the honorees from across the nation and make important connections and partnerships. I would like to extend a special congratulations to our fellow Washington Honorees this year: The Northwest School Seattle, Lake Washington School District, and  Lopez Island School District.

The honorees were named from a pool of candidates nominated by 28 states. The selectees include 25 public schools, including three magnet schools and two charter schools, as well as 10 nonpublic schools. Thirty-six percent of the 2019 honorees serve a disadvantaged student body. The list of all selected schools, districts, colleges, and universities, as well as their nomination packages, can be found here. A report with highlights on the 53 honorees can be found here.

Photo Credit: Conor Laffey


How Oak Harbor Public Schools get here?


While the district’s student-led school gardens and schoolwide vermicomposting programs are well documented, Oak Harbor has made significant improvements in many other areas. For example, in the last five years the district added 15 percent more interior square footage, but reduced energy use by five percent. Adding LED lighting, condensing boilers and energy efficient use of classrooms (turning off lights, closing doors, lack of excessive water use, etc.) continue to result in significant savings.

The district demonstrated strong water quality, efficiency, and conservation and implemented a solid waste management program focusing on reducing, reusing, recycling and on-site worm composting at most of our school buildings. In addition, adding 19 propane buses to the district’s bus fleet has drastically affected the carbon footprint previously created by diesel buses, while saving money and improving air quality.

These honors, coupled with national and state awards at each of our elementary schools, led to this incredible achievement. Student learning and engagement in science, agriculture and the environment through green and sustainability projects are ever expanding. This honor is a tremendous recognition of the district’s continued success and stewardship.

During the application process, we relied on the experience of two of our schools, which are both former U.S. Department of Education National Green Schools (2015, 2018) for guidance. Since 2012, Hillcrest Elementary School has been working to make lasting changes around the three pillars of sustainability. Starting with small sustainability projects and moving to the organization and support of Washington Green Schools certification process helped staff organize, form their first green team, and tackle sustainability goals one by one. Seeing the engagement of students and the positive school culture this created, motivated them to apply for and receive recognition as a 2015 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon SchoolLearn more about their student centered approach here.

In 2017 after similar successes and recognition through the Washington Green Schools program, students and staff at Broad View Elementary decided they were ready to apply for recognition. Thanks to an ambitious student led initiative to replace plastic silverware with metal, a school wide composting program, and several other efforts around environmental literacy, health, and reducing environmental impacts, Broad View Elementary was recognized as a 2018  U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School. See more about their great work here.



Designated carpool parking has increased the number of people who carpool to Oak Harbor Public Schools, this idea rose from an audit conducted during the application process for U.S. Department of Education National Green Ribbon Schools.


In the process of applying, our district came together and enjoyed the opportunity to celebrate the successes that were happening in each and every one of our schools around sustainability. The application process also allowed us to focus in on where our areas of growth were, and set some short term and long term goals. One example happened when we saw the need for carpool parking in our district. We decided immediately that we could bolster our carpool numbers by taking the simple action of designating parking. With the collaboration of our communications and transportation department, we created carpool parking spaces and signage and saw immediately the numbers of people who carpool increase.

What has been most meaningful about this experience has been how the application process tied together all of the pieces of our program, and helped us unite in our sustainability goals. It introduced us to like-minded educators across the region, state, and nation who we can learn from in a supportive network. I would highly recommend the process to any school working on sustainability. It was rewarding to gain recognition in such an esteemed cohort, and to work closely with OSPI’s Environmental Sustainability Science department through the process. 

More information on the federal recognition award can be found here. Resources for all schools to move toward the three Pillars can be found here.


View of the Capitol building in Washington D.C. from the top of the Washington Monument. Photo Credit: Jodi Crimmins

If you are interested in applying to be a Green Ribbon School or district, now is a great time to prepare for the 2020 ED-GRS application cycle by using resources and programs available on Green Strides.  Read some common misconceptions about the award dispelled in a blog, and review frequently asked questions about all three award categories. 

Washington State, applications will be available online on October 15, and the application window closes December 15.  For more information, please contact Washington's program coordinator Rachel Farrington
Schools, districts, and postsecondary institutions are eligible only if nominated by state authorities.

OHPS visits with Senator Patty Murray while in Washington D.C.

What is Next for Oak Harbor Public Schools? National Green Strides Tour Visits Washington State

We are so honored to be included as one of the stops on the National Green Strides Tour as it visits Washington State later this month.  The tour is organized by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction as they host the US Department of Education (US-ED) as they visit our state for this year's national Green Strides Tour. During the tour, federal, state, and local officials, non-profit representatives, and other visitors from neighboring school communities will bring attention to how rebuilding schools with sustainable infrastructure cuts costs and creates healthier, safer, more equitable learning environments that support the needs of the whole child.  Modern, educationally adequate green schools and grounds facilitate hands-on learning about sustainability, natural resources, the environment, design, construction, and agriculture, preparing students for the future and professions not yet imagined.  Sustainability education includes broadly transferable and versatile educational competencies like critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity. Green schools offer learning environments that are agile, relevant, and exciting.  Furthermore, updating school facilities and grounds for sustainable operations and environmental education engages communities.

Several Washington State public and private schools and school districts will be showcased on this tour to highlight practices in reducing environmental impact; saving money through sustainability practices; improving school mental and physical health; and offering environmental and sustainability education to all students. Site descriptions, locations, and times are described in detail on the registration page. Registration encouraged before October 14, 2019

The Green Strides Tour visited some 20 states, completing over 100 events in five iterations.  More information on this and past tours can be found here


Read my other CORELaborate Blogs on Science, Problem Based Learning, and Sustainability:

Cafeterias ARE Classrooms

Learning by Doing

Growing Student Engagement through School Gardens


And, check out some others from my CORELabore Peers:


Every.Single.Scientist by Erin Lark

The Best Lesson I Taught in 2018  by Camille Jones


  • Climate Science
  • Green Schools
  • Sustainability
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The opinions expressed by the CORElaborate Bloggers, guest bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of the Puget Sound Educational Service District (PSESD), Ready Washington or any employee thereof. PSESD is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the Washington State Teacher Leader or Guest Bloggers.

Jodi Crimmins Board

Elementary Garden & Sustainability Teacher on Assignment (TOSA), Oak Harbor Public School, Oak Harbor, WA