CHEJ’s Green Flag Schools Program Offers Students, Parents and Staff a Pathway to IPM

By Matt Neff, Project Coordinator, IPM Institute of North America

The strongest motivator a school district can have to improve its environmental health conditions is a strong call for it from students, parents and staff. As the recent outcry over poor conditions in schools in Flint, Michigan demonstrated, such a call can even get the attention of the nation and the world.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an important component of school environmental health since it decreases both pest levels and pesticides hazards in schools.

The Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ) offers a free program and toolkit for exactly this purpose.

The Green Flag Schools Program for Environmental Leadership provides a pathway for students to improve the health of their schools in four key areas: indoor air quality, IPM, waste management and recycling, and use of non-toxic cleaning products.

The Green Flag program offers startup kits for K-8 students and for 9-12 graders to effect change in the four areas. Students are encouraged to build an adult-student Green Flag team and conduct an environmental survey of their school.  From there, it’s up to the student teams to call attention to the issues, get the attention of the school district and effect a policy change. Reaching in-program levels of accomplishment wins the school an achievement patch that they can sew onto a green flag supplied by CHEJ, for display within the school

How do students first get involved with the Green Flag program? Stephen Lester, CHEJ’s Science Director, says it’s mainly via teachers. “Environmentally-conscious teachers are mostly the motivators. Teachers will run an environmental club or are just more engaged with this kind of work and want to get their kids involved.” He says that participants usually find and download the materials themselves to get started and will contact CHEJ after they’ve made some progress in assessing environmental conditions at schools.

The Green Flag Schools program is unique in that it teaches children as much about organizing and activism as it does about environmental health. “We like the activism portion – it takes the second step,” says Lester. “One of the stages for students is that they have to confront the decision-makers. They have to gather information, identify problems, propose solutions and then go to the committee and the people in charge to make change happen. We show them that is the normal next step in this process.”

CHEJ’s was founded by Lois Gibbs in Niagara Falls, New York in 1981. Its mission is to prevent harm to human health by providing technical and organizing support to individuals and communities facing toxic hazards.

Lester emphasizes that the Green Flag Schools program is just piece of CHEJ’s greater mission. “This is a small piece of what we do. We help people organize around chemical exposure. This program was developed as outreach to younger people. People come to CHEJ because there’s a contamination problem in their community; these programs will work where there are activated parents who are trying to get their kids involved, in their own free time.”

Lester said that a key question for participants is how to come up with effective alternatives. CHEJ offers resources and advice: “We always encourage them to keep doing their own research and talking to people and they’ll find the answers,” says Lester.

For more on the Green Flag Schools Program, please visit CHEJ’s website.

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