Catherine Cook School students grow up green

October 12, 2012 (CHICAGO)

Students at the independent school are reducing energy, limiting paper use and working to improve air quality. And school officials say that's just a start in their pursuit to live green.

Seventh-graders at Catherine Cook School,, are recording the power generated by the four kilowatt wind turbine and solar panels mounted on the roof of their school. They're also measuring how much energy the school uses.

"As it started out, just about one o'clock, it was between 50 and 100 watts but then as the day went on, it became just a little bit higher and between people arriving at school, we used about 150 watts," Laura Moore, 12, said.

School leaders say incorporating the renewable energy into the curriculum helps students understand it in a tangible way.

"We're not just helping ourselves and making it easier for ourselves. It's really helping the environment. It's about the bigger picture," Jack McHugh said.

One of the ways the school uses the energy it produces is by recharging batteries and laptops. More student assignments are given electronically to reduce paper use. To improve air quality and reduce waste, they've made other changes including outfitting every classroom with a smart board so there's no chalk, using bulletin boards made from linseed oil instead of cork and switching to natural cleaners. Bob Riccardino is the school's facilities manager and leads the green initiatives.

"I helped the now governor when he was lieutenant governor write the guidelines for the green cleaning bill mostly to keep ammonia and bleach out of the schools," Riccardino said.

The school contracts an organic lunch service, but students who bring their own are encouraged to use only recyclable containers and to take home what they don't eat to reduce food waste. Riccardino says it's just one more way to get students and parents thinking greener.

"A new parent came up to me the other day and goes, 'Bob, it's gonna be Earth Day soon. What are we gonna do?' A parent of a child a little bit older says, 'Everyday around here is Earth Day,'" Riccardino said.

The school also saves on its electric bills. The light emitted from their computers cuts down on the need for much overhead light.

Catherine Cook School has students from pre-school to 8th grade.

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