MAST students again recognized for being "green champions"
MAST Academy received recognition as being a Green Ribbon School, in part for reducing environmental impact and costs.
Several students from the MAST Academy Green Champions Program recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to receive the honor, discuss their efforts with politicians and visit area landmarks to learn what they could bring back to their school.
“A lot of hard work paid off,” Pedro Matos, a MAST 10th grader, said of the recognition. “All the effort we put in … we took something out of it, basically.
“Our final goal is to make the school a net zero school.”
The aim of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) is to inspire schools, districts and institutions of higher education (IHEs) to strive for 21st Century excellence by highlighting promising school sustainability practices and resources that all can employ, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
The award recognizes schools, districts, and IHEs that: reduces environmental impact and costs; improves the health and wellness of schools, students and staff; provides effective environmental and sustainability education.
Joining Matos in D.C. were MAST students Thomas Brulay, Matheus Paioletti, Nicolas Hall, Daniel Sardina and Helene Lobree.
“This has been such a huge community collaborative parent/student project, that I wanted to give the kids as much exposure as possible” in D.C., said Michele Drucker, a MAST parent who attended the D.C. trip with the students.
The students’ trip included meeting with U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala (D-FL 27th District) and the office of U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL).
“They wanted to know what we were doing, our plan, how did we get into environmental issues and how we plan to make MAST a better school,” said Matos, adding they’ll do that “by continuing to do what we’ve been doing – create more projects.”
The group of 11 parents and students also visited the Smithsonian to learn about its cafeteria food waste program, and American University, where Matos said they were taught how “buildings were constructed in a way that less energy was wasted, and how there is throughout the school gardens made to collect water from the rain.
“They do this so it won’t flood. The garden could help everyone because it would help collect water that we could use later on to water our garden.
As “thrilling” as the Green Ribbon School award is, said Drucker, the school is far from reaching its next long-term goal in becoming a net zero energy school, a goal students hope to reach by 2022.
To work toward this, the volunteer-driven MAST PTSA board created a sustainability committee and funded a solar powered guard shack. It also obtained funding from community stakeholders for recycling bins, including from IKEA and the Key Biscayne Community Foundation.
The MAST PTSA Sustainability Committee worked closely with after school clubs and science classes to help ramp up its recycling program and native plant gardening. In 2017, it became a Green Apple school through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and was invited to apply to become a Green Ribbon school through the U.S. Department of Education.
“Based on a request by the Green Champion students, the village has set aside $40,000 for a solar panel project,” Drucker said. “It’s intended to showcase sustainability technology and encourage residents to adopt the same technology for their home.”
Partnerships have been formed with Frost Science to establish a mangrove planting program at MAST and encourage students to participate in coastal restoration events on Virginia Key, Drucker said.
“At MAST, Frost will sponsor a shade house to cultivate mangrove propagules, manage the planting operations, and offer its employees to help with MAST GCP workdays, such as garden clean-ups, ‘bike-safe’ clinics and school beautification days,” she said.
“We also have a relationship with the University of Miami’s Green U program. They have allowed us to have Green Champion meetings at UM and helped us recruit talented and hardworking graduate student volunteers that work alongside our students to execute on our programs.”
The Green Ribbon award, Drucker said, has changed things dramatically as far as what is being done in the district.
“They have taken what we’ve done at MAST and are now doing it district-wide,” she said, “such as getting rid of straws in all the schools, intending on installing solar panels at different elementary schools, and installing water bottle fillers at every school.”
Among the steps being taken to help the school achieve its 2020 goal of being a “net-zero” school, students have driven initiatives to:
- Fund a solar powered guard shack, with help from MAST PTS
- Create a sustainability committee
- Tap into community stakeholders for recycling bins
- Convince the village to set aside $40,000 for a solar panel project
- Establish a mangrove planting program with help from Frost Science