Despite widespread budget cuts and dwindling resources in the Philadelphia public school system, one local high school makes sustainability a top priority.
The most beneficial outcome, however, goes beyond sustainability and environmental awareness. Principal Debora Borges-Carrera said that being LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified translates into the overall well-being of the students.
“I think it’s made a huge impact on students’ mental health,” she said. “There is so much more light in the building, making for a more transparent and relaxed environment for learning.”
Michael Cole, who teaches AP Environmental Science to seniors and juniors at Kensington CAPA, also noted the improvement in the students’ morale since the improvements were made in the school building’s structure.
“It definitely brought up the mood of the students,” Cole said. “They seem to be a lot happier.”
Kensington High School for Creative and Performing Arts, located at 1901 N. Front St., was officially LEED certified back in 2011 by the U.S. Green Building Control.
The features that make the school environmentally sustainable earned it a Platinum certification, scoring a 68 out of a possible 70, according to the USGBC website. Each criterion that makes up a school’s score is awarded points based on the environmental impact and the resulting benefits it yields. The scorecard comprises factors such as water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources.
Kensington CAPA incorporated many new features into the school to obtain LEED certification.
The building was constructed with mostly renewable and recycled resources.
The school uses geothermal heat and also has a timed lighting system that shuts off automatically when there is no motion censored in a room after a certain amount of time.
“Our [energy] budget’s about half of what it used to be,” said Cole, whose class also takes its own steps towards becoming more environmentally aware.
Part of Cole’s AP Environmental Science class curriculum is to tend to an organic vegetable garden on the school’s campus.
Students are outside almost every day the weather permits, testing water and soil, germinating seeds and identifying trees.
It’s not just Cole’s class that gets to participate.
Cole said there is an outdoor classroom that is used frequently by other classes that has a circle of logs as seats.
Kensington CAPA was the first public school in the nation to receive a LEED Platinum certification, according to an article from Naked Philly.
In addition to Kensington CAPA, there are other schools in the city that are LEED certified, but only by Gold and Silver standards. These schools include Philadelphia’s School of the Future, Commodore John Barry Elementary School, Thurgood Marshall Elementary School, West Philadelphia High School and Willard Elementary School.
Borges-Carrera said that since becoming a LEED certified school, more of the school’s students are going to college. This, she said, is due in part to the better learning environment.
“They actually want to come to school,” she said. “They love coming here to learn.”
Since he began teaching at Kensington CAPA more than a decade ago, Cole echoes the positive vibe brought about by the school’s LEED certification.
“It brought a spotlight onto our school, which is nice,” Cole said. “The kids get a chance to develop skills to take home with them.”
Moving forward, Borges-Carrera hopes the school can become a Green Ribbon School, a program launched by the U.S. Department of Education to encourage schools to decrease their carbon footprint, improve the health of their students and implement environmental education program.
“While there are still a lack of resources, funds and teachers, we feel that this should still be an important priority in our school,” she said. ••