Memphis Sustainable Schools Challenge Ends its First Year

Guest Blog | June 2, 2015 | Energy Efficiency
Memphis Mayor AC Wharton addressing the crowd at the Memphis Sustainable Schools award banquet.

Last month, the Shelby County Schools Sustainable Schools Challenge (SSC) held its first annual awards ceremony at the Memphis Botanic Garden to recognize and celebrate the outstanding work of students, teachers, and administrators who participated in the first city wide school sustainability initiative. SACE’s Memphis Energy Organizer, Sandra Upchurch, was part of the SSC steering committee, spearheaded by Clean Memphis.  SACE’s role in the project was to establish energy savings guidelines and criteria for the nine schools that took part in the SSC. SACE was in attendance at the awards ceremony honoring the schools who made the most progress during the projects first year.

Facets of Clean Memphis’ work already focused on environmental/sustainability education within the Shelby County School System, including a comprehensive environmental education program that impacts over 10,000 students per year. In addition to Clean Memphis’ pre-existing classroom education presentations, it engages students in various service-learning projects in their communities.

Clean Memphis’ newest initiative, the SSC, is the brainchild of Janet Boscarino, Executive Director of Clean Memphis.  Ms. Boscarino made it a priority to fill a much-needed void after the Green Schools Program, an initiative of the Tennessee Department of Prevention Partnership, was discontinued.  Clean Memphis modeled its new SSC effort after the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbons School program.

The SSC is a local certification program that serves as a framework to encourage and recognize schools, administrators, teachers and students who are actively working to create a more sustainable future. Although the program was created to ultimately align with the Green Ribbon Schools program, the SSC meets schools where they are and provides a scaffolding method to the Federal program.

The SSC recently completed its pilot phase, which began with participation from twelve local schools during the 2014-2015 school year. Ultimately, only nine of these twelve schools were able to meet the SSC requirements and participate in the awards ceremony. In order to participate in the SSC Awards Ceremony, all of the participating schools had to complete an application demonstrating progress made in the following areas:

1. Establish and document a school-wide recycling program.

2. Perform an energy audit and take steps to curb consumption.

3. Participate in education program focused on nutrition and wellness and establish a school garden.

4. Plan, promote, and carry out a service-learning project each semester and improve students’ overall environmental literacy.

Each school’s application was objectively evaluated and included a site visit by steering committee members, who conducted a walk-through of each school. Schools were graded on how well they integrated sustainability into the preexisting STEM curriculum.

Steering Committee Members of the Shelby County School's Sustainability Challenge. Standing, from left to right: Andrew Murphy (Clean Memphis), Janet Boscarino (Clean Memphis), Hannah Zachary (AutoZone), Christine Donhardt (City of Memphis, Office of Sustainability), Stacy Greenberg (MLGW), Samuel Upchurch (SACE Member) and John Zeanah (City of Memphis, Office of Sustainability). Seated, from left to right: Jennifer Leigh Thompson (University of Memphis), Sandra Upchurch (SACE), Jenna Richardson (Intern, Clean Memphis)

Shelby County Schools who participated in the SSC pilot year included American Way Middle, Carnes Elementary, Cordova Middle and Idlewild Elementary.  Participating charter schools included Freedom Prep, Grad Academy, New Hope Christian and Soulsville School as well as University of Memphis’ Campus School.

Memphis Mayor AC Wharton took part in the awards ceremony to congratulate the students and teachers on a successful first year.  Mayor Wharton used the analogy of a “trust” in defining the role of green schools working to protect the environment and told the school children that as trustees of our planet, they must make sure that they are caring for our planet for the next generation.  AutoZone was the presenting program sponsor, with additional support from Memphis Light, Gas and Water, the Shelby County Office of Sustainability and the Coca Cola Company.

AutoZone's Hannah Zachary (far left) and Clean Memphis ED Janet Boscarino (far right) with the winning energy savings group from Idlewild Elementary.


SACE applauds the efforts of Idlewild Elementary for achieving the most reductions in energy consumption of all of the piloted schools – saving a whopping 21% of their total energy consumption.  Led by their teachers, Idlewild students conducted energy patrols and audits, which made a significant impact in terms of initiating energy saving behavioral changes. Shelby County School’s Energy Management team played a key role in Idlewild’s success by relamping inefficient lighting with more energy efficient bulbs and installing dimers in hallways that turn off lights when the hallways were empty.

SACE looks forward to continuing to be a part of this effort and working with more schools in Memphis to reduce schools’ energy consumption and save money on energy bills!

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