Setting the standard for green schools

Peter Biros, a sophomore at Edison, cuts the ribbon, flanked by classmates and community leaders involved in the green campus project. Photo by James Healy.

Edison High School student Peter Biros helped design and install a community garden his freshman year of high school.

“Our campus is now a big deal. Our campus is now sustainable — the top in the state” Biros said. “Schools should be green, as an example to the community, and Edison is leading the way.”

Biros, now a sophomore, participated in a class and summer internship working on the community garden for the school and the Holland neighborhood as part of a larger effort to go green.

Minneapolis Public Schools said Edison is the first green campus in the state.

The new eco-friendly high school is the result of community partners — including Spark-Y, the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization, the school board, the Holland Neighborhood Improvement Association and City Council — coming together to make the space an arts, education and innovation hotspot.

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Sept. 9, the school unveiled several storm water management systems that make up the outdoor environmental laboratory for the neighborhood’s learning community.

New campus systems include the community garden, greenhouse, tree trench, permeable pavement, storm water storage tanks and a rain garden.

The infrastructure is projected to capture and treat about 1.5 million gallons of runoff that would have otherwise drained untreated to the Mississippi River.

A sprinkler system connected to the storage tanks will be used to water the school’s football field.

Doug Snyder, executive director of the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization, said Edison’s sustainability efforts would certainly impact the health of the Mississippi.

“The school is directly connected to the river through the pipe systems that run under the roads and streets, so once water hits the road anywhere in the city and then goes into the drain, there’s no treatment,” Snyder said. “We hope people will understand that what you do for your land has a direct impact on your water resources. We want to make sure the water that gets to those water resources are as clean as possible.”

Synder said his hope is that the green campus will instill the importance of water management early on for students, and serve as tool for the neighborhood.

“The idea would be that some of these homeowners learn something and take the messages back to their homes,” he said. “Maybe they would get a rain barrel or plant a rain garden. All of those things would help protect our water resources. Our goal is to make sure that water is as clean as possible before it reaches the Mississippi River.”

Jenny Arneson, the chair of the Minneapolis Board of Education, has twin sons who participated in the community garden project.

“This is a really prime example of community and schools collaborating and coming up with a collective vision,” Arneson said. “Our neighborhood is better served because we’ve managed to come together. The school is the center of the neighborhood, and it’s an important center to the neighborhood.”

Superintendent Ed Graff applauded the school’s sustainability and emphasized the educational benefit of the campus transformation in his speech at the ribbon cutting ceremony.

“This is about innovation,” Graff said. “It’s about inspiring young people to think beyond what those possibilities or those limits are and really see that through some hard work, some ingenuity and a lot of perseverance that we can create a much better place for ourselves in the community and the environment.”

Zach Robinson, executive director of Spark-Y, a nonprofit that facilitates action-oriented labs focused on sustainability and entrepreneurship, is an advocate for shifting the education paradigm from classwork and rote memorization to hands-on learning. Spark-Y facilitated the curriculum for students working on the community garden.

“We’re saying: Get ready. Everything we do is real. Everything matters. This is where your food is coming from, where your energy is coming from,” Robinson said. “We tell them: You do this class and you’re going to have a job, you’re going to have a future.”

The community garden class and internship is an example of that work in action, Robinson said.

“With Spark-Y classes, students are actively engaging, learning and building the green campus,” Biros said. “This makes our education applicable in the world, and, I’ll be honest, it makes our education really fun and engaging. So, also, Edison is leading the way in education.”

Connor Arneson, 15, also participated in the Spark-Y class and summer internship.

“I think it’s cool to see something you built be there until the wood rots,” he said.

This is not the end of Edison’s work on the green campus. Soon a solar canopy will be installed, offsetting the school’s electricity needs by about 40 percent.

Adelheid Koski spoke at the ribbon cutting on behalf of the Holland Neighborhood Improvement Association. She said the project is about social sustainability as much as it is about environmental sustainability.

“In the end — what this project is about to the neighborhood — it’s all about relationships,” Koski said. “This hits on the three levels: the art, the energy and the innovation. Energy is not just about the environment and sustainability; it’s about momentum, it’s about the path and it’s about the way forward.”

Community partners hope to continue investing in the campus, Jenny Arneson said. “We’re always dreaming.”