Green Gurus

Meet the winners of this year’s Bethesda Magazine Green Awards, held in partnership with Bethesda Green

Photos by Darren Higgins

(page 1 of 5)

From a Montessori school whose students are immersed in farming to a company that’s filling its headquarters with energy-efficient features, here are the winners of this year’s Bethesda Magazine Green Awards, held in partnership with Bethesda Green.

Butler Montessori students explore in a dry creek bed that supports stormwater management on the campus.

Raising Gardeners

Rubber boots are at the top of the school supply list for students at Butler Montessori. They’re essential for the 150 preschoolers through eighth-graders who often traipse through the mud on the private school’s 22-acre campus in Darnestown, next to Seneca Creek State Park. There are plants to tend in the organic garden, eggs to collect from the chickens, forts to build and trails to explore. 

“I don’t say to my teachers, ‘Everyone needs to be working in their classrooms at 9:15.’ Teachers decide what routines would be healthiest for the children,” says Head of School Laura Manack, whose mother founded Butler in 1970. “Many start their days outside hiking or on the playground.” 

After beginning in the basement of a nearby church, the school moved in 1983 to its current location, where buildings were designed to blend into the rural landscape. Natural, sustainable and recycled materials were used in recent renovations. Classrooms are filled with reclaimed furniture. The school installed bamboo composite decking and permeable boardwalks in place of concrete sidewalks to filter water and reduce pollution. 

In the farm area, students feed chickens with lunch scraps they’ve collected from composting pails, and learn about crop rotation and caring for the soil. The seventh- and eighth-graders participate in a micro-economy program, selling to the school community vegetables from their garden and products they make with their harvest, such as jam and pesto. 

Kids are given responsibility and a chance to share their vision, says Bridgette Downer, environmental education guide at Butler. “We ask them: ‘What do you see that can be improved to better our economy?’ We let them take that project and run with it.” They researched and designed a fulcrum to move a 1,000-pound log. When they wanted an easier way to raise and lower lights in the indoor grow room for seeds they looked at pulleys on YouTube, talked about the physics behind them and then built a pulley system.

Having hands-on environmental experiences makes it easier to understand why science lessons matter. Says Downer: “It’s almost like the facts fill in for that fascination and discovery that they’ve already made through their senses.”

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