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It only takes about 30 seconds to pass through the village of Starksboro. Like most small Vermont towns, there are a few blocks of houses, a church or two, a general store, a post office, and that's about it. It's small in every way. Except for the local elementary school, where some big things are happening in a way that could be a model for the rest of the U.S.
Robinson Elementary School has 160 students and sits surrounded by corn fields and forested Green Mountain foothills. But look close and you'll notice something quite different from the usual school tableau: 19 solar panels that make Robinson the only school in the state to obtain all its power from the sun.
And that's just the tip of the sustainable iceberg. In the cafeteria, up to 95% of the vegetables served are from local farms, and the school bakes it own breads and biscuits. The menu often includes dishes like mac and cheese with broccoli.
Behind the scenes, energy audits and retrofits have combined to significantly lower the school's heating costs and carbon footprint. Add up all these changes, and you've got a revolution of sorts, one that's saving the town's taxpayers a ton of money as it saves the Earth.
It's also providing all kinds of new learning opportunities because at Robinson Elementary the kids are in on all the action. Students went into the attic to check out the school's new insulation. A school solar festival taught the benefits of ditching fossil fuels. Classes are using the solar panels to study electricity and calculating their outputs in math lessons.
Best of all, the school is increasingly seeing its sustainability ethos head home with the kids at night. Students are turning off unused lights at home, making better food choices, and teaching their parents how to live a greener lifestyle.
This is the real legacy of Starksboro's successful experiment. It's seeding our world with passionate, environmentally-minded young people eager to spread the gospel of sustainability. There is a much, much better way, and there are countless good reasons to go for it. With the world as its ultimate student body, that's the true lesson being taught in Starksboro's classrooms. And it's one we'd all be wise to pay attention to.