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Liberty High School

Evaluation of Liberty High School Regarding its Ability to Implement the Principles of Green Chemistry in their Science Classes

outside photo of Liberty High School

Liberty High School is a rural, "high needs with limited resources" (as categorized by the New York State Education Department (SED) school report card)* school located in the southern Catskill Mountain region of New York State in Sullivan County. The district has approximately 695 students in grades 9-12 and offers a variety of science courses at the high school level (9-12) including Forensics, Environmental Science and Advanced Placement Biology.

Objectives

The goal of this case study is to ascertain whether or not this school can benefit from proper chemical management and the implementation of the principles of green chemistry. Additionally, a function of this study will be to provide evidence of the benefits, in terms of toxicity reduction and cost savings, that can be used as educational tools to illustrate the value of proper chemical management and green chemistry to key stakeholder groups.

Work Performed

The project was funded by a grant from the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Region 2 (USEPA), administered by the Division of Materials Management's Toxic Reduction Section of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC). **

The study was undertaken in steps; the first being an evaluation of the need for assistance which included a site investigation by NYSDEC staff to determine if the school was a viable green chemistry candidate. The second step included a commitment by school administration and staff to take the steps necessary to implement the principles of green chemistry for one school calendar year in their chemistry classes. The third step included completing green chemistry training conducted by NYSDEC staff and Beyond Benign, a non-profit organization contracted by the NYSDEC. Finally, the fourth step involved having the candidate school report back to the NYSDEC on their teaching results after implementing the principles of green chemistry in their high school classes.

Results

The overall methodologies used in this case study indicate that the format works. The study showed that the school benefitted from proper chemical management practices as the chemical inventory and reorganization efforts conducted by the NYSDEC resulted in a 67% decrease in line item chemicals for the school's chemical inventory. Evidence of these benefits were seen in the cost savings realized with the disposal of chemicals identified during the chemical inventory and re-organization process. If the school had hired a private contractor to do the inventory, transportation and disposal of the chemicals, the cost would have been $21,540. As NYSDEC and BOCES staff did the actual work, the cost was $11,591, a savings of $9,949.

The workshop and training held as part of this case study enabled 28 science teachers representing all the counties of the Hudson Valley region to become aware of the benefits of proper chemical management and green chemistry. This ensures that interested stakeholders are aware of the benefits of green chemistry with regard to toxicity reduction and cost savings.

Lessons Learned, Challenges and Opportunities

Only one chemistry teacher at this school was trained in the principles of green chemistry, which was a disadvantage for the teacher in this case. While it was beneficial to have the support of the school principal and superintendent, that support did not translate into having all the chemistry teachers take part in the training. The teacher would have benefited from having fellow chemistry teachers trained and implementing the same green chemistry principles so that they could discuss the issues and work collaboratively on the experiments. In addition, the chemistry teacher trained only tried a couple of green chemistry experiments. Multiple experiments would have better demonstrated what worked and what did not.

Single trained Green Chemistry Teacher

This case study illustrates the importance of having a complete "buy in" by school administration on all aspects of the principles of green chemistry. However, despite the fact that only one teacher was trained, many important aspects of the training were identified which will help further endeavors. The teacher was concerned that the green chemistry experiments were time consuming and since many of the food based reagents had to be made fresh, she could not prepare them ahead of time. This took away valuable time from the actual experiments. In addition, most experiment materials must be ordered ahead of the new school year to comply with procurement and budgeting procedures. For this reason, ordering fresh ingredients may pose a problem for teachers. If the teacher buys supplies later in the year out-of-pocket, he or she may not be reimbursed.

In addition, this teacher introduced some experiments not provided during the workshop, such as a chemistry demonstration that simulated a corporate environment with time and money factored into the experiment. This "real world" experiment is one that needs to be further developed. One valuable outcome from this case study was with the savings realized, the school district was able to contract with BOCES to stage clean-out of unwanted chemicals at all the district's chemistry laboratories. This outcome was the result of both green chemistry and chemical management training provided by NYSDEC to the Liberty School District in collaboration with the local BOCES. The savings realized by conducting a district chemical clean out may allow the school to invest in hiring a certified laboratory technician, which may alleviate future chemical management issues.

A copy of the full Evaluation of a Rural High School Regarding its Ability to Implement the Principles of Green Chemistry in their Science Classes is available at Liberty High School (PDF, 673 KB).

*The need/resource capacity index, a measure of the district's ability to meet the needs of its students with local resources, is the ratio of the estimated poverty percentage to its combined wealth ratio.

**Disclaimer. Although the information in this document has been funded wholly or in part by the United States Environmental Protection Agency under grant # NP96296412 to The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, it has not gone through the Agency's publication review process and, may not necessarily reflect the views of the Agency and no official endorsements should be inferred.


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