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Darrow School – Sustainability to the Core!

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I attended Darrow School’s fourth annual Sustainability Symposium on Tuesday, April 24th. Darrow School is a coed, college-preparatory, boarding and day school in New Lebanon, NY. The campus, located on the site of an historic Shaker village, is composed largely of buildings built by the Shakers in the 1800’s. There are also wind generators, solar panels and a biotic wastewater treatment center with its bug eating plants - see aphids melt into leaves at left. Visiting the school is like visiting the past and the future at the same time. I found the school and the symposium impressive and inspiring.

One of my greatest concerns is the need to teach all young people, grade- and high-school students, the basics about energy, environment and sustainability. Just because we haven’t done this sufficiently in the past is no excuse for not getting started in earnest now. We need a citizenry educated in these issues to vote and make the decisions necessary to save our planet. As we slowly become aware of the importance of these issues, I’m sure this content will be integrated into reading, writing, arithmetic and science lessons, but generally it is not happening fast enough (IMHO). 

Well, this lack of awareness and initiative is not apparent at the Darrow School. As a matter of fact, it is quite the opposite. Sustainability and the related topics of energy and environment are at their curriculum’s core; sustainability is part of their Shaker heritage and one of their core values (along with Authenticity, Achievement, Community, Creativity, and Teamwork).

Independent of reading, writing, arithmetic and science daily life at Darrow School includes their Hands-to-Work program, where students garden, tend to the waste-water treatment center, recycle and perform other tasks that are educational and lend to the sustainability of the school. They also integrate sustainability into their class work, where there are many examples of students coming to understand sustainability while learing the "three Rs." As I said, the school’s focus on sustainability, local and global, is impressive.

The symposium was a daylong series of key note speakers (Martin Ping of Hawthorn Valley Farm and via Skype, Bill McGibben of 350.org) and concurrent breakout sessions, including at various times:

  • The Energy and Economy of Solar Power – a survey of current technologies for solar electric and innovative methods to pay for them by Andreas Schmid and Olya Prevo of Real Goods Solar.
  • Flying Deer – a discussion on tracking and thinking like our wildlife neighbors by John Foster of Flying Deer Nature Center.
  • Behind the Shaker Scene – a tour of the campus to see recent energy conservation initiatives by Tom Seamon of the Darrow School.
  • “Mitakuye Oyacin”: We Are Related – a Native American perspective, by Fidel Moreno, Filmmaker, on the inter-connectedness of humans and nature.
  • The World of Organic Farming – Erin Milin and Jenn Munt of Darrow school share their experience working on organic farms in Ireland last summer.
  • Collaborating for a Cause – discussion by Jason Houston, Photographer and Filmmaker, on multimedia opportunities to collaborate with non-profits, editorial outlets and mission-driven companies.
  • Making Jams and Chutneys – demonstration on how to make and use jams and chutneys in recipes by Beth Linskey and Liz Beals of Beth’s Farm Kitchen.
  • Greening the Learning Environment – presentation on how the Science Building is being re-envisioned as a more energy-efficient and functional building by architect and alumnus Mike Hardiman.
  • How to Harness Free Energy – discussion on how to use solar thermal energy to heat water by Luke Forester of SunDog Solar.
  • Land Trusts and You – learn about the work of land trusts and conservation tools used to help sustain and strengthen the connection between our communities and our landscape by Tony Colyer-Pendas of Columbia Land Conservancy.
  • Building Naturalist Skills Toward a Sense on Place – Devlin Franklin, Naturalist, uses Darrow’s scenic landscapes as a study of several topics in nature.
  • Outdoor Adventure & Environmental Service – for students who are interested in participating in summer expeditions involving wilderness adventure, environmental field study, service learning and cross cultural exchange. A discussion on why and some example programs by Joel Priest of Darrow School.

  • Samson Environmental Center – an explanation of how the natural system of wastewater treatment handles all the water for the school and its attendees and why it is important by Craig Westscott of Darrow School. Excellent and amazing! See picture to right.

This program was a very ambitious presentation of the Darrow School and sustainability topics. It was very well done! Mark your calendar - The 5th Annual Sustainability Symposium will be April 23, 2013!

In addition to their day-to-day focus on sustainability, in 2010 the Darrow School launched a $2.5 million capital program, growing.greener, toward securing its future by addressing environmental, economic and human sustainability issues. Over half of the investment will be in conservation and preservation of campus buildings to save energy, reduce costs and improve comfort. To my mind, this is the definition of "Walking the Talk." The 8 minute video below provides additional information and insight into the Darrow School’s growing.greener program or visit its website.

Please let us know what your school is doing to educate our young people in sustainability, energy and the environment.

Editors Note: For another discussion on natural water treatment, see Layne Darfler, a junior at Paul Smith’s College majoring in Environmental Studies, article, "Environment: Living Machines and Water Resources" in the Adirondack Almanack.

Dan Gibson is the Reporter and Chief Coordinator of Our Energy Independence Community (www.OEIC.us). Previously he performed home energy audits for five years in NYSERDA’s Home Performance program and new home ratings in the New York ENERGY STAR Home program. He is currently building a 100% Solar Home. He can be reached at DanG@OEIC.us.  


growing.greener Campaign Video

Comments on "Darrow School – Sustainability to the Core!"

  1. OEIC default avatar Editorial Staff June 02, 2012 at 8:31 pm

    Recent comment to this blog was deleted because it was crude and mean-spirited.

  2. OEIC default avatar wgewaldii December 27, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    I am looking forward to being at the Darrow Sustainability Symposium in April, 2013.

    Bill Ewald
    Darrow ‘61


  3. Dan Gibson's avatar Dan Gibson December 27, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    Hi Bill,

    Great! Hope to see you there.


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