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Green Healthy Smart Challenges Bring Sustainable Projects to Students and Schools

Baltimore Office of Sustainability has supported 30+ student-led school projects in the last year 

Before last year, the courtyard at Joseph C. Briscoe Academy was a cement-covered space with lots of unrealized potential. Fast-forward a year, and the courtyard is transformed into a beautiful, welcoming Peace Garden filled with flowers, plants, painted murals, and benches. 

The enhancements are the result of City Schools' Green Healthy Smart Challenge program - a funding partnership with the Baltimore Office of Sustainability (and its fiscal sponsor, the Baltimore Civic Fund) that offers schools up to $1,000 a year ($1,500 for designated Green Schools) for student-led sustainability projects. Founded in 2010, Green Healthy Smart Challenges have supported projects at  more than 170 schools, provided more than $739,000 and engaged thousands of students in hands-on, high quality learning opportunities. This year, 27 schools across the district have received funding. 

Joseph C. Briscoe Academy is one of them. This year, the student team is hard at work improving the Peace Garden by creating an interactive learning space with a portable whiteboard, new planter boxes, gardening materials, a birdhouse, and a butterfly bush - all intended to infuse academic lessons with hands-on exploration and experiences. 

The key, as Joanna Pi-Sunyer, Sustainability Analyst at Baltimore City Public Schools puts it, is showing by doing. “For our kids, Green Healthy Smart Challenges are about illustrating through real world examples that they are part of an ecosystem. Through these projects, students team up to tackle sustainability problems that align with their learning and interests - whether that be air pollution, food access, water quality and more.” 

Gardening at Holabird Academy

That kind of flexibility is a central component of Green Healthy Smart Challenges. During the pandemic, many schools created outdoor learning spaces. Now, projects are expanding in all directions. At Holabird Academy, the student team is creating a composting program. Every classroom will have compost buckets, and the student “Green Team'' will be in charge of collecting the buckets, educating fellow students about the importance of composting, and adding fresh compost to the school garden every spring. 

At the National Academy Foundation, students are using Green Healthy Smart Challenge funding to enhance the school’s new garden built over the summer. And at Harlem Park Elementary/Middle School, the funding will take students on field trips to places like Mr. Trashwheel to learn about recycling and pollution, Great Kids Farm to learn about plants and sustainability, and the Masonville Cove Environmental Education Center to explore their ecosystem through bird watching. 

By empowering teams of students to choose and pursue projects, Green Healthy Smart Challenges build collaborative skills, encourage accountability, and enhance school communities, all while supporting student learning around sustainability, science, and STEM. 

In addition to the Baltimore Office of Sustainability and the Baltimore Civic Fund, the Green Healthy Smart Challenge program is made possible by BGE, Constellation Energy, and Kaiser Permanente. To learn more about the program, click here

Green Healthy Smart Challenges are just one part of the district’s robust sustainability plan, which seeks to improve student environmental literacy and leadership, create healthy school environments, improve green spaces, and conserve natural resources. Find the full plan here: 

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