'Growing Up Green' a teaching tool

Voluntary program offered to schools

Ray Mueller
Susan Schuller

CUSTER – In various stages of participation, 156 Wisconsin school districts in 58 counties – 422 school sites in all – are registered for the state's Green and Healthy Schools (GHS) “Growing Up Green” program.

The program is open to public and private schools.

Designed to help schools reduce their operating costs by focusing on efficiencies, to improve the health and wellness of students and school staff, and to nurture environmental literacy, the program is a joint venture of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Public Instruction, and the Wisconsin Center for Environmental Education at UW – Stevens Point.

How the program is carried out varies greatly from school to school, according to the Center for Environmental Education's senior outreach specialist Susan Schuller, who oversees GHS in the state, who was a presenter at the 2017 Energy Fair.

GHS history

Following its launching in 2003, GHS had 150 school sites sign up during its first eight years, Schuller noted. Of them, 35 completed at least one related project during that time, she reported.

One notable achievement was a student-initiated suggestion to get rid of styrofoam trays for school lunches at the Appleton schools.

A program renovation in 2011 identified the three points of focus and a guide was published, Schuller indicated.

There are nine topic areas, including water, energy, health and wellness, transportation, recycling, community involvement, and use of school sites as a teaching tool to address a “nature deficit disorder” regarded effects on the environment, she stated.

With the support of the United State Green Building Council, Schuller said the goal is to have all schools registered for GHS within the next generation. In a typical community, about 20 percent of the residents are directed linked to the school in some way, she observed.
Within Wisconsin, GHS is leveraged with support from 34 entities such as a compost supplier in Milwaukee (65 school sites registered), the sewerage district in Madison, nature centers, the Focus on Energy program, and Northwind Energy.

Depending on the type of activity, volunteers have given money, shovels, buckets, books, or other supporting materials, Schuller indicated. GHS is strictly voluntary and recognition is given but no certification is awarded, she pointed out.

Program challenges

One persistent challenge that Schuller encounters is staff turnover. To start, GHS requires a commitment from two representatives at each school site.

Those are teachers about 50 percent of the time but administrators, food service directors, and representatives of parent/teacher organizations can also make that commitment. Schuller finds that there is a widespread but incorrect belief by teachers and others that virtually no else in the community shares a belief in the purposes of GHS.

The program is promoted at workshops – four of which are being offered around the state in the coming months – and at annual summits which are scheduled at Oregon on October 27 and at Colby on March 9, 2018, Schuller reported. More details are available on the website.

In the wake of a decision by the state legislature and governor to end funding for the Wisconsin Environmental Education Board, which provided a grant to support the first Midwest Renewable Energy Fair, Schuller said efforts are under way to build a network for funding based on pairings with individual schools or state-wide support.

Whatever the situation or setting, Schuller explained that the approach in all cases with GHS is “to plant a seed, have it sprout, and then grow.”

To learn more about GHS, call Schuller at (715) 346-4150, send an e-mail to, or check the website.