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James Monroe High School

An Evaluation of an Urban School in Western New York State Regarding its Ability to Implement the Principles of Green Chemistry in their Science Classes

Monroe High School

James Monroe High School was chosen as a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation's (DEC) green chemistry candidate school representing the Rochester area in western New York State.

James Monroe High School is an urban school, serving grades 7-12 with approximately 1,300 students, as part of the Rochester City School District (RCSD). It is located in the city of Rochester, Monroe County. James Monroe High School follows the New York State Regents' sequence of earth science, living environment, chemistry and physics. It is a "high needs with limited resources" school (as categorized by the New York State Education Department (SED) school report card).*


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 safety and cost savings 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 Toxics Reduction & Green Chemistry Section of the DEC.**

The study was undertaken in steps. The first step being an evaluation of the need for assistance which included a site investigation by DEC 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 DEC staff and Beyond Benign, a non-profit organization contracted by the DEC. Finally, the fourth step involved having the candidate school report back to the DEC on their teaching results after implementing the principles of green chemistry in their high school classes.


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 reorganization efforts conducted by the DEC resulted in the reduction of stocked chemicals as follows:

100% known carcinogens; 41.4% possible carcinogens; 100% severe irritants; 70.3% reactive/oxidizers (possible violent reactants); and 28.8% corrosives were reduced.
The total chemical storage reduction was 19.9%. The majority of the chemicals (91.5%) chosen to remain were fewer in number and contained very low toxicity chemicals.
The number of chemical containers reduced was 29.9%. This resulted in opening up more shelf space in their chemical storage areas.

The green chemistry workshop, held as part of this case study, enabled 28 science teachers, representing 22 high schools from seven counties (predominantly from western New York State), to become aware of the benefits of proper chemical management and green chemistry. This has resulted in an increased awareness by the interested stakeholders of the benefits of green chemistry with regard to toxicity reduction, safety and cost savings.

Lessons Learned, Challenges and OpportunitiesTeachers at Monroe High School

Two teachers from James Monroe High School were trained in the principles of green chemistry. It should be noted that even prior to receiving green chemistry training from DEC, one of the chemistry teachers already had some prior knowledge of green chemistry and was eager to learn more for use in his classes. He felt green chemistry would be in sync with his current methodology of teaching chemistry as it related to his student's everyday lives through guided inquiry. He also felt this method of teaching resulted in better student engagement in the lessons.

This teacher was a stellar example of a teacher going above and beyond with green chemistry; the emergence of a green chemistry leader. He tried many of the green chemistry experiments he learned at the DEC green chemistry workshop, as well as seeking out more green chemistry experiments outside of the workshop. He is continuously looking to incorporate more green chemistry experiments in his Regents class lessons, as well as looking for different options and alternatives to diversify the labs. His goal is to eventually have 100 percent of chemistry labs be green chemistry labs. For now, those experiments that he can't green, he will at least do at the microscale level.

This chemistry teacher had an active interest in advocating green chemistry to his colleagues. He exemplified this green chemistry leadership by leading a green chemistry experiment on hydrogels at another DEC green chemistry workshop. DEC believes that it is this kind of teacher leadership and initiative at the "grassroots" level that is the best pathway for green chemistry to take root and grow.

One of the challenges that both teachers faced was a regrettable lack of time to develop new green chemistry experiments, so they will be looking for more "drop-in" greener replacements for traditional chemistry experiments.

Although the teachers did not involve the school administration with their green chemistry progress all of the time, the school administration was aware of their efforts to make lab instruction safer and more meaningful for the students. The school administration supports any effort that enhances instruction, especially if there are the added benefits of health, safety and cost savings.

James Monroe's chemistry teachers both expressed, at the conclusion of this study, that green chemistry in the high school setting is definitely the way to go.

A copy of the full case study, "Green Chemistry Piloted at an Urban High School in Rochester, New York is available at James Monroe High School (PDF, 403 KB).

*The need to 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 #NP-96296412 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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