This article is the first in a series from Instituto Thomas Jefferson (ITJ), a school system in Mexico with locations in Mexico City, Guadalajara and Queretaro. ITJ has been working closely with USGBC’s Center for Green Schools to integrate sustainability by focusing on improvements in the physical place, educational program and organizational culture of the institution.
This “Whole School Sustainability” framework helps integrate, document, communicate and measure the impact of their work. According to Monica Bleiberg, a leader at ITJ, “The path to sustainability is far from being a short and easy process, but the patience it requires is also full of satisfaction and learning that helps us to get closer to successfully integrating sustainability in the life and culture of our institution.”
Jessica Garza Alvarez is a 12th grade student at ITJ. Here, Alvarez shares how her involvement in the design of her sustainable high school inspired her passion for sustainability and commitment to eco-literacy.
One day, ITJ’s High School principal, Veronica Larrea, arrived in my classroom and asked us if we wanted to be part of a new project. This project consisted of sharing our ideas for the design of a whole new sustainable high school building. When I first listened to her, I did not know what she was really talking about. I mean, I know what it is to build a new high school, but I was not sure what she meant by “sustainable.” I was really curious about it, so I raised my hand and she selected me for the project.
Weeks later, I was one of the nine students who were part of the project; we got together with the architects to talk about how we were going to help. We talked about what it meant for a building to be sustainable. I understood that a sustainable approach means creating a high school in which you can learn about climate change and the things that can be done to counteract it, not just read or take a class about the topic. It is about seeing and understanding how the building is capable of generating its own resources without affecting our planet. This means that we can continue to enjoy our natural resources, and that future generations will have the opportunity to have the same way of life that we have today.
The people from USGBC taught me that we need to start making people aware of how we are destroying our planet and to teach society how to change their wasteful and polluting habits. They also taught me that one of the best ways to start taking action is by building a sustainable high school in which future leaders can learn about sustainability and how to stop climate change.
For six to eight months, we got together once or twice a week to work on the project. We brought many ideas to every meeting, where we shared them and continued to think about how we could make this new high school building the best building that any student could ask for. During one meeting, we realized that we had finished, that we had already designed the best, most sustainable high school building that we could have thought of. Months passed, and we could see the new building being built. The nine of us could not wait to see how it would feel to really be in a building that we had created.
Finally, that day has arrived. I cannot believe that I am standing in it. It is perfect…just as we planned it. Wide halls, big classrooms with an octagonal shape, restrooms on every floor, a gym, a library and all those different things that we shared on paper months before have come to life. I can say that having the opportunity to design a sustainable high school building, the fact that it is the high school I now attend and that it meets all the needs that any student could have, is priceless. This project made me realize that I want to help our world and that I cannot continue day by day without making a contribution, knowing that as time passes by, we are destroying the only place that we have to live in, our planet.