CAMDEN, NJ— A Camden high school is on a path to become nationally recognized for its efforts in achieving sustainability.

On Thursday, Jill Buck, founder of the international Go Green Initiative, visited Brimm Medical High School to congratulate Brimm students and staff for earning Sustainable Jersey for Schools [SJS] Bronze Certification.

It’s the first urban New Jersey school to receive such a designation.

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“What you’ve done by getting this certification makes you extremely special,” Buck told a group of small, eco-minded students in the school’s media center. As part of the Go Green Initiative, Buck said she has visited schools in all 50 states and across the globe, but “I don’t get to see this much at all. What you guys done is not just special in the state of New Jersey, this is special in the entire green schools movement.”

SJS is a nonprofit program that works with New Jersey schools to achieve sustainability by providing tools, training and financial incentives. To earn a bronze certification, schools must establish a green team, and implement two out 10 of the program’s priority actions and earn at least 150 points through completing other actions in the program.

Last year, Brimm Operations Manager Deborah Goodman realized that Brimm had already completed sustainable projects such as building rain gardens and installing rain barrels, so she enlisted the help of about 25 Brimm students to work on the remaining sustainable objectives.

With the help of the partnership with Go Green Initiative, and supported by funding from the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority and Covanta, an international waste management company, the school was able to complete four SJS green initiatives:

  • Install rain barrels and create rain gardens to improve waste water drainage.

  • Complete a waste audit to see how the school could produce less and recycle more.

  • Create lesson plans and professional development opportunities for staff and students to deepen their knowledge of sustainability and its effect in the community and society.

  • Create a school sustainability vision, with annual goals and plans for improving Brimm’s environmental footprint each year.

In October, it received news that it was awarded the bronze certification.

“I’m beyond of what we accomplished last year,” Goodman said, who already has her eyes set on the top SJS sustainability designation — Silver. To do that, Goodman said, she will the need the help of more students, and held a sign-up session following Buck’s presentation to the students.

“It’s going to be a lot of hard work,” Goodman said, adding that if everything goes to plan, the school can accomplish the extra 200 points its needs in one year.

“They are such hard working students, and always looking to give back to their community and always looking to give back to their school.”

Some projects Goodman and the students would like to accomplish is getting Brimm’s greenhouse back up and running, to hold an environmental fair this spring and establish safe travel routes for students to walk or bike to school.

“I’m really proud of our school,” said Iyana Lugo, an 11th grader at Brimm who helped teach students last year about recycling during the school’s lunch periods. Lugo said she decided to help when she realized students weren’t throwing away their trash properly.

“I liked talking to the kids, and letting them know that helping recycle could help our school,” Lugo said, who believes the school can achieve its goal of silver certification next year. “We have a group of great students, and we work together we can accomplish anything.”

An SJS certification now means Brimm gain’s priority access to grant programs and are eligible to apply for the Sustainable Jersey for Schools Small Grants program, along with earning national designations and certifications, said Goodman.

This year, 111 schools in the state achieved either SJS Bronze or Silver certification. In four years, 242 schools have achieved SJS certification, and total of 779 schools and 303 school districts are participating in the program overall.

In a statement, Acting Camden City School District Superintendent Katrina McCombs said that the school district will use Brimm as a model for other schools in the district to reduce their environmental impact.

“We must embed sustainability into everything we do as educators. In the classroom, educators are engaging students about new ways to minimize their impact on the local and global environment. School buildings are working to improve efficiency and minimize their waste,” McCombs said. “At the District level we are implementing a new system wide sustainability policy, and are supporting other schools to follow Brimm’s lead and gain Sustainable Schools for Jersey certification.”

Principal Hye-Won Gehring praised how the school’s sustainability effort includes the whole school — including it students with learning disabilities.

“It’s not something that can be done in isolation. Our school is very small, but we have a huge diversity of learners … this is something where they are closely working together. Both students benefit from the constant interaction with each other,” Gehring said.