National, state officials tour local Green Ribbon Schools
by Shane Dunaway
TALLADEGA COUNTY — Representatives from the U.S. Department of Education, Auburn University, the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, and the Environmental Protection Agency toured two of Talladega County’s National Green Ribbon Schools Wednesday.

Tour guests received an inside look at 2013 National Green Ribbon Winner Fayetteville High School, home to more than 600 students in kindergarten-12th grade, and 2012 National Green Ribbon Winner Winterboro High School, home to approximately 322 students in fifth-12th grade, to take a firsthand look at how each school earned their prestigious status.

The group first stopped at Fayetteville, where Talladega County Board of Education Superintendent Dr. Suzanne Lacey welcomed the crowd as guests and local school administrators mingled before the opening presentation by Dr. Patsy Lagen, president of the Fayetteville School Foundation.

Lagen, a former principal of the school, delivered a presentation highlighting the campus landscape project that started more than five years ago.

“During the 2007-2008 school year, the first event on our calendar was to open our new football stadium,” Lagen said. “When I became the principal of the school in mid-July, we didn’t have any grass on our football field and we were scheduled to play our first game in about a month.”

This quandary eventually led Lagen to Jimmy Pursell, owner of FarmLinks, whose initial assistance enabled the school to open the stadium on time.

Pursell’s connections to Auburn University’s Department of Horticulture sparked a drastic shift in appearance for Fayetteville’s campus over the course of a half-decade.

Lagen gave credit to five graduate students from Auburn who designed the future landscape of the campus as well as the local community for enabling the project to take flight.

“During our first work day on this project, we had more than 175 community volunteers who assisted on the project,” Lagen said. “With their help, we were able to plant 150 in one day and we didn’t have to spend a dime.”

Those trees became a part of the school’s tree grove featuring more than 560 trees and shrubs native to Alabama.

Energy Education Manager Alex Stewart closed the presentation with energy saving figures, school system as a whole saved $4 million in six years.

Following the presentation, Principal Byron Brasher lead the group to visit the school’s butterfly garden for students to observe the stages of metamorphosis, five-bed sensory garden designed to engage all five senses, vegetable garden maintained by the students with themes assigned to each grade, the senior garden and the school’s wetlands area.

The tour continued at Winterboro where the guests were shown the ins and outs of the project-based learning initiatives and applications of the “one-to-one student-to-computer ratio” in place at the school.

Winterboro Principal Michelle Head disclosed figures on Winterboro’s environmental impact, stating the school has saved more than $360,000 and increased the school’s energy rating from 24 to 87 in six years in large part due to insulating the facility in 2010.

Head and Assistant Principal Emily Harris lead the initial presentation before turning the tour over to students who showcased multiple project-based learning stations and the school’s learning suites.

Director of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools Andrea Suarez Falken and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Rural Outreach John White remained engaged with the students and administrators throughout the tour, periodically asking questions and offering up advice and avenues for the schools to continue to improve in their endeavors.

Falken stated she noticed a significant difference between reading about the schools on paper and physically seeing the results.

“You can really see the community piece when you come here and you see all the different partners like Mr. Pursell of Farmlinks and other community partners (who contributed),” Falken said. “It really does take the whole community to (make a) change.”

White lauded the rural schools for their successful efforts.

“The local communities here are built around the schools and they can really support the school in a number of ways,” White said. “They’ve become very creative about the ways that the partners can support the schools. You can tell in the students that it’s had a great impact on them.”

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© 2013