But within just a few short years, teachers saw students taking ownership of the programme, getting improved grades and showing a greater interest in their school community.

Lourdes Diaz, Bermuda's Eco-Schools mentor with the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE), said these particular students from her homeland in Puerto Rico even went a step beyond that and met with their mayor, calling for action to improve waste management in the area.

Ms Diaz, who was recently on island helping Greenrock's partner schools set up their own Eco-Schools programmes in Bermuda, said "it was an emotional moment" seeing those young people fight for something they believed in.

Eugene Dean member of the Greenrock Management Committee, Lourdes Diaz chair of the Foundation for Environmental Education, executive director of Greenrock Gordon Johnson and Abbie Caldas program manager of Eco Schools

She said: "To see those students who were failing and to see them stand up to their mayor and request they look at steps to help them solve the issues they learned about in school, it was an amazing experience.

"Those students are succeeding now in school, they are in high school and some of them plan to go on to college."

FEE's Eco-Schools programme encourages students and teachers to conduct research on the amount of waste, energy or water use at their school and work towards making it a more sustainable environment.

Greenrock became a member of the international award winning programme last October. They have already partnered with six schools, as well as a local preschool and Bermuda College.

Greenrock's Executive Director, Gordon Johnson said the goal was to introduce the programme into all interested schools in Bermuda.

Over time students will be getting involved with a variety of projects, depending on their school's needs. Some will be building community gardens, installing bluebird boxes or starting up a recycling programme at their school.

But as the results prove internationally, its effects can extend far beyond that.

Some schools overseas have saved money by reducing their energy bills and water consumption; while others have built meaningful bonds with other institutions around the world.

The programme has also helped students take charge of their own environment and work alongside teachers to make sure the school is running in an environmentally friendly way.

Abbie Caldas, programme manager of Eco-Schools, said Greenrock was currently working to enhance the programme by building stronger relationships with schools on the island.

She said: "We are hoping to take those 20 years that FEE has learning from schools around the world and Bermudianising it. We want to give our students the skills, knowledge and confidence to change their places of learning.

"That involves relating the lessons to their curriculum, like math, science and language, but also how the whole school community comes together to meet these changes."

Ms Caldas said the programme aimed to give young people knowledge on how to tread lighter on the earth — and the skills to do just that.

"We are not training them all to become environmental activists for the future," she explained. "We are showing them that no matter whether they plan to be lawyers, decision makers, designers or whatever career they want to go into, they can still respect where they come from, their relationship to the natural world and the community.

"We are trying to ingrain in them that the environment is valuable, that they're dependant on the natural world and responsible to it."

Ms Diaz, a former educator, spent many years working in the tourism industry. She was later hired as a product development director to bring programmes like Eco-Schools to Puerto Rico.

"Even though I retired, I was still in love with FEE's Eco-Schools programme and continued working with an NGO, a group similar to Greenrock in Puerto Rico.

"Then I was appointed to the board of directors at FEE in 2008. Currently I am vice president of the organisation."

Ms Diaz currently serves as mentor for programmes in St Maarten, US Virgin Islands, Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago and Bermuda.

Her role is to look at what's been done in the various schools and build on that progress by offering advice and suggestions. She also provides teachers and staff with a structure so that they can aim to get their programme recognised internationally.

She said one of the most rewarding parts of the job is seeing past students continue to fight for environmental causes after leaving primary, middle and high school.

In some instances those students, now in college and university, noticed that those higher learning institutions didn't have environmental practices in place; and went to their school administration demanding improvements. That led FEE to create eco-campuses.

"Another rewarding thing is seeing that change in their behaviour. It's overwhelming," Ms Diaz said.

"They have a sense of pride and it's astonishing to see them stand up and speak with knowledge and the confidence they develop, that's more than rewarding. That's why we are here."

FEE currently has more than 11 million students across 52 countries taking part in the initiative. For more information on Eco-Schools, visit: http://www.greenrock.org/projects/schools/eco-schools

Original Article

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