Johnson Elementary one of two Kentucky schools to receive 2024 Green Ribbon Schools award

By Quin Welch
Building Kentucky

Robert D. Johnson Elementary School in Fort Thomas and Arlington Elementary School in Fayette County have earned the U.S. Department of Education’s (USED’s) 2024 Green Ribbon Schools award for their creative efforts to lower utility costs and environmental impact, enhance health and wellbeing, and provide quality sustainability education.

The Green Ribbon Schools initiative is a federal recognition aimed at promoting school sustainability. The USED honors these organizations and draws attention to their work reducing environmental impact and cost; improving the health and wellness of students and staff; and providing effective environmental and sustainability education that incorporates science, technology, engineering math, civic skills and green career pathways.

Students from Robert D. Johnson Elementary spread mulch around trees at the school. (Photo from Building Kentucky)

Arlington Elementary and Robert D. Johnson Elementary are among 41 schools, 10 districts, three postsecondary institutions and one early learning center being honored this year across the country.

Jillian Booth, a 4th-grade teacher at Robert D. Johnson Elementary School, said the idea of becoming a “green school” came from students during the demolition of their nearly 100-year-old school building.

“We were in trailers on the high school campus, and there were a lot of students generating thoughts about where we were going and what was happening to our campus,” said Booth. “Behind the building were nature trails and in front of the building were multiple trees, nearly 200 years old, that our kids loved.”

Booth said when the students and staff found out they were demolishing the whole school, the children felt passionate about animals and how their environments were going to be impacted by all the construction.

“We put a deer camera behind the school to look at what animals were living back there. It was crazy; there were foxes, coyotes, rabbits and a ton of deer. That kind of spearheaded this whole environmental sustainability passion for our students,” said Booth.

The new building is now three years old, and the school has created a student-led composting program called the Eco Club. This club is an opportunity for students to increase environmental awareness for positive change in the school and community.

With sustainability in mind, Booth said their school has project-based learning opportunities focused on environmental education for students at every grade level. Projects include motivating and educating the school population about recycling and composting in the cafeteria, solving environmental problems and creating structures that provide shade for animals.

“The students in the club wanted to reduce not only the amount of litter but also the waste in general that our school was making. They started promoting more classroom recycling and making sure that every classroom had a recycling bin and started a campaign within the school,” said Booth.

The following year, Booth said club members created different stations in the cafeteria for students to drop off their plastics in the correct bins.

“We were able to reduce our waste from four 55-gallon garbage cans full of trash daily to the landfill to just one, which is huge,” said Booth.

Students have also worked to create a sustainable and energy-efficient school. For example, Booth said the school turned off the lights in the hallways and cafeteria when enough light was coming in through the windows to reduce energy consumption.

“Each Friday, we would commit to our classrooms for at least an hour with the lights out. It’s been exciting to see the progression over the years of how these ideas and students develop; it’s been a pretty cool experience,” said Booth.

In addition, students remind all staff to shut down electronics, unplug appliances and shut the blinds in classrooms to save energy.

Ashley Dikeos, principal at Robert D. Johnson Elementary School, said earning the Green Ribbon Schools award was a celebration not only for her staff and students but for Northern Kentucky as a community.

“It’s exciting to be one of the first in Northern Kentucky, in addition to only so many schools in the state of Kentucky, (to) have received (this award),” said Dikeos.

One thought on “Johnson Elementary one of two Kentucky schools to receive 2024 Green Ribbon Schools award

  1. What a wonderful experience for everyone involved. I am very impressed and proud of these students and the school.

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