The Tower Companies enhances outdoor classroom for Green Apple Day of Service

Published on: 
Thursday, October 13, 2016
Giuliana Kunkel

Nestled between Sligo Creek Elementary School and Silver Spring International Middle School in Silver Spring, Maryland, is a shared outdoor classroom courtyard that encourages teachers and students to move out of a traditional indoor classroom setting and take a hands-on approach to their studies.

It has become a learning laboratory where teachers turn discussions about cooperation and responsibility into lessons and where students observe the natural environment through wildlife habitat, weather observation, native plantings and harvesting their own food. After visiting the school’s shared campus, this was the space where The Tower Companies knew they could have the most impact for their company-wide volunteering event for Green Apple Day of Service.

The team met with the principals and staff of both schools and learned that the outdoor classroom is underutilized by students, partly because teachers were not sure how to use the space and didn’t have the resources. So Tower’s team of sustainability professionals, engineers, contractors and designers came together to brainstorm ways to enhance the natural classroom space for the students and staff. The team’s goal was to help foster an environment that aided in learning and connection, given that the mission of the outdoor classroom movement nicely aligns with Tower’s vision to develop buildings and spaces that inspire and create positive social change. 

“Since my father started the family business almost 70 years ago, we have enjoyed engaging in and contributing to the local community through employee volunteerism and philanthropy,” said Jeffrey Abramson, partner at The Tower Companies. “To align with this commitment, we are proud to offer paid time off to employees interested in giving back to the community, and this year, I’m excited to see our entire Tower Team volunteering together to create an even bigger impact for our local schools.”

Tower has been participating in Green Apple Day of Service since the event's inception five years ago, by partnering with local schools that are located in the same or nearby districts where they own and manage residential properties. This year was the biggest effort from the team, with 100 percent participation from Tower employees and significant contributions from seven industry partners to donate an astounding 400-plus on-site volunteer hours.

The team also worked to build a new shed and bench, construct two new vegetable gardens, upgrade an 800-square-foot rain garden and conservative landscaping, stain and repair 20 benches and tables, install two welcome signs and make new planters with herbs.

This year, Tower was fortunate to have Montgomery County Councilmember Tom Hucker join in the fun and thank the entire Tower staff and partners for their contributions. Hucker stressed the importance of creating an engaged learning environment for the future of the children in the Montgomery County. 

The Tower Companies’ 2016 projects

  • Welcome signs: Custom-designed welcome signs to help personalize the entrances to the outdoor classroom and encourage more classes to use the space.
  • Edible gardens: Two new raised edible garden beds that hold fall vegetables and multiple new herb garden planters to build upon a curriculum of teaching how to grow one’s own food.
  • Conservation landscape: Upkeep of the 800-square-foot conservation landscape, which included weeding, mulching, planting and edging. This garden is used to prevent stormwater runoff from entering the nearby Sligo Creek and is home to native perennials that host pollinators for students to study. 
  • Benches:  In 2015, Tower planted 30 large native plants to beautify the new stage area in the outdoor classroom and also built 20 benches that convert into tablesso that teachers can create lessons to teach students while in the outdoor classroom. The same benches were stained and repaired this year to preserve them during the changing seasons, so they can be used for years to come.
  • Front entrance beautification: A new shed to hold garden tools and materials for the volunteer parents who maintain the space and to keep the courtyard entrances clean and safe for students and teachers. Four new herb gardens were also made out of recycled wine barrels and placed at the entrances with signage. 

Learn more about Green Apple Day of Service

Green your schoolyard for Green Apple Day of Service and all year long

Published on: 
Wednesday, September 21, 2016
Sharon Danks

How can we transform school grounds into rich, outdoor environments for all children? There are many things schools can do on any school ground to improve and enrich students’ daily experiences outdoors and to teach them to be stewards of their local environment.

This coming Saturday, Sept. 24, is the fifth annual celebration of Green Apple Day of Service. On this special day, school across the country—and around the world—will gather their communities to improve their school sites and children’s well-being by creating healthier, safer and more productive learning environments. This year, we encourage school communities to put their energy toward improving their school grounds by holding a schoolyard workday in collaboration with parents, teachers and students.

Making schoolyards a place to explore

A movement to make school grounds greener and connect students to nature is gaining momentum, interweaving the ideas of urban sustainability and ecological design with education, health and community engagement. Green schoolyards bring nature back to cities and suburbs by transforming barren asphalt and ordinary grass into vibrant environments for learning and play, set within rich, local ecosystems that nurture wildlife and the natural processes that underlie and sustain our urban areas. Green schoolyards foster students’ social, physical and intellectual growth by providing settings for collaboration, exploration and wonder.

Tools to get started

Two nonprofit organizations, Green Schoolyards America and the International School Grounds Alliance, partnered this year to create a set of free online resources to help schools get started in enhancing their grounds for outdoor learning, play and ecology. The three publications in this set include a total of 147 outdoor activities for youth ages 3–18, written by 123 collaborating organizations in the United States and 16 other countries.

The guides were written by authors from different geographic regions, but all of the activities are intended for use by all schools. Please see the links below for free digital copies of this school ground Activity Guide set and a combined Table of Contents that connects all three publications. We hope these ideas inspire you to engage in outdoor activities at your own school, wherever you live.

Setting an example in environmental stewardship

Manor Elementary School in Fairfax, California, has been teaching children to take care of their local environment for many years and has applied some ideas from the Activity Guides. Teacher Laura Dax Honda often leads school ground stewardship efforts with collaboration from her colleagues. The school has a Green Team that contributes to the school’s composting and recycling efforts, helps clean up trash on the grounds and conducts energy audits of their school building.

In addition, they set up a 3,000-gallon cistern to capture rainwater for use in their pollinator garden, reducing their need for municipal water in the dry California climate. The school’s beautiful pollinator garden is also an outdoor science laboratory used for wildlife observation, including the study of birds, bees and butterflies. These projects not only teach the idea of stewardship to the students at Manor Elementary, they help the school reduce its impact on the local environment.

Children from Manor School water the school garden. Photo credit: Laura Dax Honda.

Download your own copy of the school ground Activity Guide set to get started with hands-on projects at your local school during Green Apple Day of Service and throughout the year:

Feature image: Students reuse one-gallon jugs, brought from home, as watering cans to distribute water captured from the schoolyard cistern. Photo credit: Laura Dax Honda.

What Green Apple Day of Service means to me: Jennifer Seydel

Published on: 
Thursday, September 15, 2016
Jennifer Seydel

Every movement needs a moment…or two…or three…or many, all across the planet! The Green Apple Day of Service is one of those moments for the green, healthy, sustainable schools movement. I am continually amazed at the capacity for the Center for Green Schools™ at USGBC® to mobilize their volunteers all across the planet to transform classrooms, schools and schoolyards. The growing number of projects completed each year is a reflection of the growing desire to co-create a sustainable future.

One out of every six people—that’s close to 60 million—work, learn and play in our school buildings every year. Unfortunately, many of our schools still operate the way public education was designed in the mid-nineteenth century: preparing students for an industrial society that no longer exists. On Green Apple Day of Service, communities have the chance to create a new vision of what they want their children to learn, where they want their children to learn and how they want their children to learn. 

The diversity of Green Apple projects reflects these hopes and dreams: creating gardens that help children understand how to nurture their bodies, doing cleanup and ecological restoration projects that honor the integral connection between human health and ecological health, replacing old incandescent lights with more energy-efficient LED lights, tearing up asphalt playgrounds and replacing them with outdoor classrooms and natural play areas and transforming classrooms with desks in rows to beautiful learning environments with sustainably forested furniture. All of these projects reflect what we in the green schools movement believe—that each of the 60 million people who spend their days in our public schools deserve to work and learn in a healthy, sustainable place.  

Last year, my husband and I helped build a country sink for the Irwin A. and Robert D. Goodman Greenhouse at Spring Harbor Middle School in Madison, Wisconsin, as well as some garden beds at Brashear High School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. For us, because we know that transforming every K–12 school does not happen in just one day, Green Apple Day of Service is a year-round event.

Join the fun. Check out and find a school to transform. Make a commitment for this one day…and then decide how you can support their efforts to become a green, healthy and sustainable learning environment year-round! 

Register a project

Tell us you’re in: Green Apple Day of Service 2016

Published on: 
Wednesday, September 14, 2016
Amanda Sawit

There’s still time to join us for Green Apple Day of Service on Saturday, Sept. 24, by participating in a service event near you. Tell us you’re in by signing up now

Green Apple Day of Service gathers parents, teachers, students, companies and local organizations to transform schools into healthy, safe and productive learning environments and celebrates our green schools champions across the globe.

For the past few weeks, we’ve shared some of our favorite event ideas and ways to track progress and measure the impact of your projects. Check out for more ideas, promotional tools and event resources for your project.

With more than 700 million students worldwide, and one-sixth of all Americans entering a K–12 school building each day, there is no questioning the enormity and urgency of the task before us. Both the way we educate and the way we take care of the school environment sends a tangible sign of a community’s willingness to provide an excellent and equitable education to all its students.

When we educate children, we guide them toward a future we hope they will create. We choose a sustainable future, and so we must educate students to prepare them to create it—in a place that inspires them. Together, we can transform our schools while teaching valuable lessons and cultivating the world’s next generation of sustainability leaders. 

Have you participated in a Green Apple Day of Service project this year? Let us know.

Sign up for the Green Apple Day of Service

First Indianapolis Public Schools to register Green Apple projects receive mini-grants (USGBC Indiana)

Published on: 
Monday, September 12, 2016
Doug Widener

Indianapolis Public Schools looking to green their schools this fall can get help with supplies from USGBC IndianaGreen Apple Day of Service gives parents, teachers, students, companies and local organizations to transform all schools into healthy, safe and productive learning environments. This year’s Green Apple Day of service will take place on Saturday, Sept. 24. 

To encourage participation and offer support, USGBC Indiana’s Central Branch is offering three grants of $500 to the first three Indianapolis Public Schools to register their projects online.

We hope that these grants will open the door to a successful program for these three schools. I addition, members of the local USGBC Indiana Central Branch are available to assist with project selection and implementation. Tools are also available on

Register before Sept. 24 to ensure your project is eligible for the Indy Green Apple grants. Keep in mind that your event can be scheduled any time during the school year to accommodate the needs of your desired program. 

To see what other schools are doing, visit For questions about Green Apple Day of Service in Indiana or if you are interested in having USGBC volunteers at your event, please contact USGBC Indiana.

Register your project

Champion health in our schools with Green Apple Day of Service 2016

Published on: 
Monday, August 22, 2016
Amanda Sawit

Schools have a direct impact on student and teacher health. Improving cleanliness, lighting quality, indoor air quality, lunchroom nutrition and physical activity can boost health and wellness and make the school day better for students, teachers and staff. 

Join us, and together, we’ll build a healthier, brighter future for our children. Here are some ideas for how to address health in your school: 

Assess the air

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, people spend 90 percent of their time indoors, where pollutant levels can reach levels significantly higher than outdoors. Going through an air quality audit or checklist helps identify possible sources of pollution and find solutions. 

Fun with fitness

Physical activity can come in all forms and at any time of day. Promote student and staff health by providing fun opportunities for active learning. Remember to track your impact through minutes of physical activity for students and staff, especially if you can sustain an increase over a period of time. In June, Green Sports Alliance hosted this year’s first flagship Green Apply Day of Service project at Yes Prep Northside in Houston, Texas. 

Adopt green cleaning practices

Green cleaning protects health and promotes better learning environments, reducing environmental hazards that negatively affect student growth and development. Training custodians on effective cleaning processes is essential for keeping schools healthy places for students to learn, which in turn keeps kids in school, achieving their highest potential. 

Don’t forget to track your progress: take note of minutes of physical activity, servings of fruits and vegetables eaten or reduced grams of sugar served. You can measure impacts on your school's environmental health by assessing school cleanliness, taking steps to improve lighting quality and evaluating indoor air quality through CO2 and humidity. For more ideas to support your community schools, visit

Have you done a Green Apple Day of Service project this year and want to share your story? Send a note to us

Sign up for Green Apple Day of Service

Growing minds with Green Apple Day of Service 2016

Published on: 
Monday, August 8, 2016
Amanda Sawit

On Green Apple Day of Service, you can make an impact right inside the classroom. Advancing a culture of sustainability within schools means ensuring that students of all ages can acquire the knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviors that prepare them to lead and succeed in green 21st century careers. 

Join us for Green Apple Day of Service 2016 and together, we’ll plant the seeds of wonder, understanding and stewardship for a more sustainable future. Here are some ideas and resources to get you started! 

Learning Lab

USGBC’s Learning Lab has fantastic online resources to help K–12 educators and their students easily implement Green Apple projects. More than 300 project-based lessons in English and Spanish are free to access throughout the month of August—just sign up for your account, and enjoy the easy-to-follow, sustainability-infused curriculum on Learning Lab. 

Fun Food Connections

You can plant a school vegetable garden to help students understand where food comes from, or engage students in preparing fresh meals or snacks that they can enjoy on the spot. Food is a great way to connect with a wide audience and talk about sustainability issues spanning topics such as social justice, economics, agriculture, operations and health. Remember to track your efforts in increased servings of fruits, vegetables and whole grains eaten by students or in decreased grams of sugars served or consumed on campus. 

Dynamic Visuals

Signs and murals allow a school to show its commitment to healthy and sustainable learning environments. Great signage can teach students and the rest of the community about the green (or could-be-greener) features of classrooms, bathrooms, cafeterias and hallways. A mural is a large-scale way to remind visitors and the school community about the school’s values. Students can lend their creativity to the effort, and it’s a great way to bring the arts into your sustainability efforts. 

For more ideas on fostering environmental literacy on Green Apple Day of Service, visit

And don’t forget to measure your impact! Keep track of the number of minutes allocated to environmental and sustainability concepts in class, or engage students through written work, art projects or even a fun post-event survey. 

Have you implemented a Green Apple Day of Service project in your school this year and want to share your results? Send your story to us

Sign up for Green Apple Day of Service

Green Sports Alliance leads GADOS volunteers at Houston’s Yes Prep Northside

Published on: 
Tuesday, August 2, 2016
Josh Lasky

As we gear up to celebrate the 2016 Green Apple Day of Service on Sept. 24, let’s take some inspiration from the communities who have come together to make a difference in their schools thus far. 

The first Green Apple Day of Service flagship project of the year took place this past June, in conjunction with the 2016 Green Sports Alliance Summit, one of the largest gatherings for the sports community aimed at improving the environmental performance of large public spaces. The Green Sports Alliance teamed up with Connor Sports and partners HOK, Excel Dryer and USGBC Texas for a school makeover project at Yes Prep Northside charter high school in Houston, Texas. 

"It's important that we engage with the communities where we host the Summit each year and make a positive impact," said Justin Zeulner, Green Sports Alliance executive director. "The collaboration between the organizations involved in this year's Green Apple Day of Service truly exemplified 'The Power of Partnerships' theme for this year's Summit." 

Enjoy this video by @flolinemedia of our Green Apple Day of Service at @ns_pride! And special thanks to our sponsors @connorsports @hoknetwork @usgbc @drivemg #xlerator #GreenSports #GreenAppleDay

A video posted by Green Sports Alliance (@greensportsalliance) on Jun 28, 2016 at 5:29pm PDT

More than 50 volunteers constructed raised-bed planters and made improvements to schoolyard green spaces for Yes Prep’s Garden Club. The project also included upgrades to the school’s physical education storage and weight training facilities in support of student health and wellness. 

“We’re incredibly proud of the team that came together to improve Yes Prep’s school grounds and physical education facilities,” said Anisa Baldwin Metzger, school district sustainability manager of the Center for Green Schools at USGBC. “Projects like this are providing much-needed transformation of school facilities while advancing a culture of sustainability and health for our children.” 

Learn more about Green Apple Day of Service