A community of role models and cheerleaders for health and wellness Spangdahlem Middle School (SMS) is geographically located in the Rheinland-Pfalz region of Germany, which is known for its sustainability efforts and serves as an ideal model for teachers in promoting sustainability goals and education. Students and teachers alike are keenly aware of methods used in this area to reduce the human footprint on Earth. As students gaze out from the school windows, they observe solar panels and windmills on the horizon. In surrounding local villages, SMS community members participate in the successful and dedicated recycling practices of the German neighborhoods. Partnering with and learning from host nation Germany allows students and faculty opportunities to be influencers and change agents in the community, the United States, and the world at large.
In partnership with the 52nd Fighter Wing, SMS has implemented and sustained processes that reduce environmental impact and costs. Collaboration with the Civil Engineering office has allowed SMS to collect and analyze utilities data, including water, electricity, oil, and refuse, which reflect notable changes as cost and usage are reduced over time. The school implemented a “Flip the Switch” lights-out plan in the 2016-2017 school year and continued this educational campaign to reduce the use of electricity, as well as closely monitoring the use of water. Recycling plans have been implemented with paper products, and SMS has worked with the 52 Sustainment Services flight to replace plastic ware in the cafeteria with reusable utensils. The school also allocated funding to support the purchase of utensils, with a goal of eliminating the use of disposable utensils by the end of the 2017-2018 school year.
Unique rules require Department of Defense Education Activity schools to comply with federal government purchasing policies. Drivers shut off their bus engines while waiting for students to board the bus. Whenever possible, teachers provide assignments via technology such as Google Apps for Education and Schoology.
School personnel are working closely with the local Civil Engineering squadron and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in designing and building a new facility, which is 32 percent complete. The Corps of Engineers has a long-standing reputation for serving the nation and other customers in a collaborative manner that is environmentally and socially sustainable.
Staff and faculty serve as role models and cheerleaders for the health and wellness of each other and the student body. School dances, marathons, fun runs, after school fitness clubs, and a comprehensive physical education program are just a few ways SMS has set a culture of health. Staff and faculty members participate in a weekly bountiful baskets program to support local farmers and provide healthy farm to table meals. Health education classes develop students’ health literacy through an array of topics such as disease prevention, food and diet, and health-related careers. Student clubs and parent organizations contribute to all social and physical health goals by sponsoring schoolwide initiatives. One recent partnership between the school, the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, community resources like the health promotions team, and the PTA promoted packing, or purchasing, the fruits and vegetables in the color of the day. The specialist department, the PTA, the school nurse, and the health promotions team also organized an event in September to kick off the 2017-2018 school year with a “More Matters” run to promote more fruits and veggies, more environmental awareness, and more physical activity.
Clubs often promote physical activity and healthy habits with the academic challenge at hand. For example, students attending Fraction Boot Camp were tasked with solving math problems, then jumping up to complete sets of burpees, jumping jacks, and sprints. Healthy snacks make the process less painful. The support staff is an integral part of providing emotional and social support through the coordinated programs offered by the school counselor and psychologist. The school nurse coordinates and provides medical screenings in collaboration with the medical group and for appropriate referrals to meet the medical needs of the SMS student body.
Research, evaluation, and responsible action are themes woven into math, science, health, art, host nation, geography, and language arts lessons to raise a problem solving generation with the necessary skills to control and effect change for a sustainable future. SMS hosts regular visits from environmentally focused professionals and technology-focused career members of the Air Force. The school was proud to sponsor a districtwide STEMPosium in the spring of 2016, providing STEM projects and learning opportunities while students were “Marooned on Mars.” The Mars lander was built by reusing materials such as cereal boxes and cardboard. Staff members have served on the planning committee for the Europe West district STEMPosium for the following two school years which will focus heavily on renewable resources this year.
Not only are students engaged with learning 21st century skills, but they are challenged to study how humans interact with their environments through various civic responsibilities. Two recent contests encouraged sustainable behaviors: A switch plate reminder design contest challenged students to artfully encourage others to turn off the lights when not in use, and an upcycling contest encouraged students to develop new uses for old items. During the 2017-2018 school year, SMS held a Conservation Convention, during which students presented fresh new ideas about reusing, recycling, reducing waste, and even upcycling.
The after school environmental club researches environmental issues. Students create junk assemblages and self-watering flower pots. Eighth grade health students developed a tool to bring awareness to simple habits that can help reduce impact on the environment. A Green Tips Google Form is being completed by each student through their health class. This is a collection of data to indicate what sustainable habits students and their families already practice, and to encourage them to include more in their lives. This data will be used to collect a baseline of community practice as it pertains to current trends, and will guide future decisions about content integration into the curriculum.