Going green

Kens­ing­ton High School for the Cre­at­ive and Per­form­ing Arts makes sus­tain­ab­il­ity a pri­or­ity.  

  • Kensington CAPA was the first public high school in the country to receive a LEED Platinum certification. CAROLAN DIFIORE / STAR PHOTO

  • Students in AP Environmental Science at Kensington CAPA tend to the school’s vegetable garden. PHOTO COURTESY OF MICHAEL COLE

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.  ••

You can reach at cdifiore@bsmphilly.com.

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