Teaching students how to save energy and help the environment provides lessons that can last a lifetime. That’s the biggest takeaway of our third annual Change Our 2morrow (CO2) Schools’ Challenge .
The 2013 Schools’ Challenge, an initiative of Alcoa Foundation  and the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions’  Make an Impact program, took place last month in seven schools across five states. Thousands of middle school students, their teachers, families and community members participated in interactive lessons, completed an energy-saving pledge list, and calculated their carbon footprint as part of the month-long program. Collectively, 10,433 people committed to take actions in their daily lives that will save more than 21 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. That’s equivalent to taking 2,000 cars off the road for one year.
The participating schools, located near Alcoa facilities in California, Indiana, New Jersey, New York and Washington state, won a total of $10,000 in grants  from Alcoa Foundation.
Ridgedale Middle School, in Florham Park, N.J., earned the $5,000 grand prize by engaging more than 1,700 students, teachers, and family and community members. Five middle schools will receive honorable mention awards of $1,000 from Alcoa Foundation to recognize their hard work.
Activities were designed to integrate seamlessly into schools’ science curricula and other subject areas with lessons focused on ways to save energy, such as by efficiently heating and cooling homes, taking shorter showers or washing clothes in cold water. Alcoa volunteers equipped teachers with Make an Impact resources and classroom lessons that aligned with respective state science standards and the National Science Education Standards.
A Timely Lesson
Seeing so many students and Alcoa community members make their own energy-saving impacts through this competition is extremely rewarding. Students can carry these lessons into their everyday lives to increase energy efficiency, improve local environmental conditions, and save money. In fact, potential financial savings from 2013 participants’ committed actions eclipsed $1 million.
The practical lessons of the Schools’ Challenge also help fill a void in science classrooms. According to the National Center for Science Education, two-thirds of U.S. students say they are not learning much about climate change. This may not be the case much longer, thanks to recently released Next Generation Science Standards  that identify climate change as a core concept for science curricula and focus on the relationship between that change and human activity. Experts  believe the standards will better prepare students for high-demand jobs in science and technology. Each state will decide whether to adopt the new standards, a process that will likely take several years.
The Schools’ Challenge also complements the growing green schools  movement that capitalizes on the benefits of energy efficiency and smart designs to create healthy environments conducive to learning. About 133,000 new and existing schools across the country are taking part in this effort that reduces waste, conserves resources, saves money, and promotes student health.
“We all have to take action; even little things count,” Ridgedale eighth-grader Emily Marun told the (Morris County, NJ) Daily Record . “People cannot just sit there and pretend someone else is going to do their part in saving the environment.”
That’s a lesson we can all take to heart.