By Rachel Gutter
Director, Center for Green Schools
I’ve always been resistant to making New Year's resolutions. I’m not really sure why. Maybe it seems cliché; maybe I’m annoyed that my yoga classes are now swamped with people who have made resolutions to be more healthy, balanced and zen in the new year. But this year, I am making a new year’s resolution of a professional nature.
A recent study found that you are 42 percent more likely to achieve your goals by writing them down, so here it goes: this year, I commit to spending less time in the best school facilities and more time in the worst ones.
Every year at the Center for Green Schools at USGBC, we receive a slew of invitations to tour schools that are on the cutting edge of green technology and curricular design, from a net-zero school in Kentucky to a school in Virginia designed to address childhood obesity. We have the privilege of seeing schools that are at the bleeding edge of the sustainability movement. And of course, it's inspiring. It is inspiring to hear from a teacher who no longer suffers from the "2:30 headache." It is inspiring to hear from a child who no longer misses school because of asthma attacks. It is inspiring to have a kindergartener talk you through the mechanics of a waterless urinal. But nothing inspires, energizes or reinvigorates my commitment to the Center’s mission to put every student in a green school within this generation more than the time I get to spend in the schools that most need our help.
One might think that it would be deflating to be confronted head on with the mammoth challenge ($542 billion worth of challenge) of restoring our nation’s decaying school infrastructure. And it’s true – seeing mushrooms growing out of toilets, vents covered with fur and fuzz and chunks of plaster falling from ceilings breaks my heart. But more than anything, it gets me fired up. It makes me angry to think that any student or any teacher would have to suffer in these conditions. It frustrates the hell out of me that the typical voter doesn’t recognize that our crumbling schools are getting in the way of our children’s education and their opportunities for a brighter future. And the worst part about it is that we know how to fix it, and yet every year the problem gets bigger, not smaller.
2014 is a year to get fired up. It’s the year for us to tell parents, taxpayers and elected officials that this is not ok. And it’s a year for us to partner with school leaders, like-minded organizations and dedicated volunteers to catalyze the transformation of our nation’s schools into healthy, safe and efficient spaces in which our students can learn, grow and thrive. Happy new year, I hope you’ll join us!