As the mother of three grown daughters, I used to face a lot of choices every day. Years ago, when my girls were in grade school, I couldn't help but notice all of the waste that was generated from the numerous social gatherings as well as from classroom projects. This realization lead me to many others, most particularly those that had the potential to effect my children's health.
So I tried to learn all that I could about things like indoor air pollution; the possible health-related effects of chemical cleaners, art supplies and science lesson materials; schools' solid waste streams; the real results of collecting recyclable materials; non-point source pollution; what we then called the greenhouse effect but what we now call, more accurately, climate change; and much, much more.
The more I learned, the more shocked and upset I became. It turns out that often our schools are not healthy places for our children to be spending their precious hours. The very places we all send our kids to learn, it turns out, are often sorely lacking. And it doesn't have to be this way.
Kids ride buses to school now, instead of walk. They're driven by well meaning parents, instead of riding their bikes. Perhaps there are no sidewalks in your neighborhood, or the school is too far, but for every legitimate obstacle there are ten that could be overcome if the community would choose to take on this challenge. So much is riding on this choice. We can choose to keep our kids healthy through daily exercise, to limit our consumption of oil, and to protect the environment from bus and car exhaust fumes.
And we can choose to change the environment inside the classroom. We shouldn't be packing kids in classrooms, where indoor air pollution is a recognized threat, or shuttling them between temporary trailers that could have off gassing from formaldehyde and other pollutants. PE and recess, once a staple of every student's day, is rapidly become a thing of the past. It's not surprising there's an obesity epidemic among children -- it's surprising that they aren't all overweight and depressed! ALL of us need to be out doors more, very few would argue with that.
And the bad school conditions only get worse in our inner cities and poorer neighborhoods. It's incredibly selfish to focus only on our own kids' schools, or our nearby schools, and ignore the communities that need us most.
So I chose to get involved. Through the MGR Foundation, we're working to create GREEN Community Schools. We are working to create an oasis of learning about the very things that we depend on to give and sustain our lives -- air, water and soil to grow our food. We are helping our teachers provide our children with lessons they can both take home and out into the world for the rest of their lives; lessons that will give practical, hands-on, real life knowledge while learning the things they need to do well on standardized tests.
Chevy and I made the choice to be at the Al Raby High School on Chicago's West Side this week, to highlight the important work the kids at Al Raby are doing, and how they are making the most important choice of all: to make a difference.
Join us in making America a Green School Nation by modeling this program at your schools. We can take care of our children, of our communities and our planet all at the same.
Visit our new website at www.GreenCommunitySchools.org to learn more about our initiative, and you can also find us on Twitter @ourGREENschools and Facebook.com/GreenCommunitySchools.