Spectrum Charter in Monroeville gets 'Green Flag Award'
A Monroeville charter school last week became one of two in Pennsylvania to receive a national environmental award.
Spectrum Charter School received the Green Flag Award from the National Wildlife Foundation's Eco-Schools USA program during an Oct. 28 ceremony at the school on Northern Pike.
Spectrum — which has 32 students ages 13 to 21 from Allegheny and Westmoreland counties — is one of 59 schools in the country that received the award, which recognizes schools that make progress toward goals such as improving energy efficiency, reducing waste and engaging the community in environmental efforts.
One other school in Pennsylvania — Patton Middle School in East Marlborough, Chester County — received the award.
Special-education teacher Lisa Adams' students conducted an energy audit of Spectrum's electric bills, tracking how much energy the school saved from year to year in bar graphs.
“It's fun for them to go to a staff member and say, ‘Hey, you have to remember to turn off your lights — here's a reminder.' ”
Jenna Cramer, vice president of the South Side-based program Green and Healthy Schools Academy, said efforts to lessen schools' environmental impact often center on one person or group within the institution but don't have staying power.
“Sometimes we say that every school has a failed recycling program because it's hard to get the people to care,” Cramer said.
As part of Spectrum's curriculum, students already work outside the classroom with area community groups.
Though charter schools by law can't exclude groups of students, the school's focus since it was founded in 1999 has been on students who are on the autism spectrum or have other special needs.
Curriculum at Spectrum includes regular visits to sites outside the school such as Shop Demo Depot, where students work on vocational skills.
The Mt. Pleasant store — owned by the nonprofit Westmoreland Community Action — resells used building supplies and used appliances to avoid wasting reusable items.
Store manager Ken Czerpak said part of the store's purpose is to divert reusable items from the local landfill.
Two classes from Spectrum regularly help at Shop Demo Depot, performing duties such as cleaning items for resale and stocking them in the store.
“My goal is to teach them basic elements that they'll use inside of work,” Czerpak said.
For Cramer, who said she has worked closely with about 25 school districts and individual schools in Western Pennsylvania and Virginia, improving a school's environmental impact involves the entire school and surrounding community.
Spectrum's focus on experiential learning has helped these efforts, she said.
“Some schools, they get worried about veering too far from the text,” Cramer said.
Gideon Bradshaw is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-871-2369 or firstname.lastname@example.org.