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Palm Harbor private school goes green
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Photo courtesy of SPRING VALLEY SCHOOL
Students, teachers and staff at Spring Valley School in Palm Harbor earn statewide recognition as a Florida Green School Awards finalist. The school diverted 60 percent of waste from the landfill, saved 19,680 gallons of water and saved more than $4,000 in energy costs this year.
PALM HARBOR – Spring Valley School was recently named one of three finalists for the Florida Green School Awards. The finalists were selected from K-12 public and private schools statewide for implementing resource-saving projects.

The three finalists were honored and the winner was announced Oct. 18 at a banquet in West Palm Beach. Driftwood Middle School in Broward County is the state winner in the school category for 2011-12. Spring Valley School was awarded a $250 grant to promote green projects and initiatives.

The Florida Green School Network, a central clearinghouse for the green school movement in Florida, supports the awards. It recognizes and supports green school initiatives at the district level and helps schools conserve natural resources, promote sustainability and reduce operating costs.

The network is sponsored by Florida Power and Light Co., and is a partnership between the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Department of Education, Florida Department of Health and Florida’s Foundation.

Last year, more than 42,000 public and private school students, teachers and administrators participated in green school projects such as recycling programs and initiatives designed to make school buildings and facilities more sustainable. Award applicants generated more than $10.8 million in gross cost savings.

Spring Valley School’s holistic approach to sustainability includes the following green programs: low-flow toilets, using 100 percent green cleaning products, programmable air conditioning, family food co-op options, a water filtration system, rain barrel irrigation and green fundraising.

The school, located at 2109 Nebraska Ave., is part of a network of about 40 Sudbury schools worldwide. It is modeled after the Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, Mass., which was founded in 1968. The 10-acre campus in Framingham consists of an old stone mansion and a converted barn on a mid-19th century estate adjoining extensive conservation lands.

“There were a lot of free school movements in the ’60s,” said Spring Valley School co-founder, Diane Ballou. “The reason they’ve been so successful is because it’s now growing as a model for the 21st century.”

Ballou, a high school math educator, said a Sudbury student enjoys intellectual freedom and unfettered interaction with other students and adults. Students initiate their own activities and create their own environments. Standard classes are not held nor are grades given or report cards issued. Sudbury schools provide a setting for independence and a community where students are exposed to the complexities of life in the framework of a participatory democracy.

“They’ve had people come and study the model from Japan and from all over the world, who are interested in implementing change in their school system,” Ballou said. “They’re actually looking at alternative models because the suicide rate is so high in Japan.”

Students at Spring Valley School are responsible for their individual choices and decisions. The daily curriculum includes learning about and running the day-to-day operations of the school.

“They’re free to really design their days in what they’re interested in doing and whatever activities they’re willing to pursue. The learning just naturally happens in a very organic way … the learning just sticks because it’s coming out of a point of either need or interest,” Ballou said. “When they have a need for something, they’ll know how to go about making it happen, how to create that opportunity.”

Spring Valley School has been at its current location for 15 years in what used to be a single-family, concrete block house.

The small school, with only 23 students, does not receive any county, state or federal assistance. Many Sudbury schools are held in home-type settings that foster a more natural learning environment. Students use multiple rooms for different purposes, so they can travel from one place to another.

Spring Valley has a formal classroom and kitchen area. The computer, art and play rooms along with separate girls’ and boys’ bathrooms have been decorated with themed wall murals, which have been hand painted by the students. Almost everything in the school has been made by hand or recycled in some way including a large student lunch table in the dining area.

The art room is stocked with supplies that have been purchased on a budget and donated by the community. Students make painted picture frames from recycled cardboard boxes and decorative and functional window shades and blinds from natural items such as branches, tree pods and shells. Broken pencils, crayons, paintbrushes and colored plastic bottle caps are used to make signs and wall art.

“You learn so much through doing these creative projects, and you’re saving money and reusing something from the landfill,” Ballou said.

The city of Largo recently donated a playground gym set, previously destined for a landfill, to Spring Valley School complete with a black train and car with rubber tires. The school also recycles plastics, metals and paper. In the spring, students plant edible gardens and grow bananas, pineapple and herbs to use in school lunch preparation.

In the future, the school has hopes of starting a compost pile and refurbishing a steel shipping container for additional classroom space.

Spring Valley School will host a Valentine’s Day 5K run and one-mile walk Saturday, Feb. 9. For more information or to register, visit

The Green Schools National Conference is set for Feb. 22-24 in West Palm Beach. The third annual event hopes to develop healthy and sustainable schools across the United States.

For more information or to register, visit
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