LatAm’s Sustainable School

JAUREGUIBERRY, URUGUAY — It takes some water and innovative teaching to sow the seed of a green generation.

In Latin America’s first sustainable public school, students are watering the plants they sowed to eat their own organic food.

This is part of a weekly workshop on farming.

The school’s 43 students cultivate the tomatoes, basil and strawberries that will end up on their plates.

In the district of Jaureguiberry, about 80 kilometres east of the Uruguayan capital Montevideo, this one-of-a-kind type of learning is a small revolution in a country deemed a South American leader in renewables.

The school promotes sustainable values, such as protecting Mother Nature and living in harmony with the environment.

Teachers blend Uruguay‘s regular curriculum with workshops on the importance of recycling and water conservation.

This new form of teaching is being enjoyed by many of the children.

“In my other school, we didn’t plant anything and it was not fun. I was bored and my friends did not understand me nor treat me well. In this school, my friends like me and we can plant and do a lot of things,” says Felipe Sanchez, a student.

The off-the-grid school was designed by American architect Michael Reynolds.

He has built “Earthship Biotecture” buildings across the globe, from the United States to Sierra Leone and Argentina.

This type of green architecture is meant to create self-sufficient communities powered by natural energies and fed by organic food.

The public school opened in March 2016 to the delight of the 500 residents of Jaureguiberry.

Alejandro Sanchez, an IT technician, can tell his son is happier in this green institution.

He believes that Uruguayans, as well as people worldwide, need a similar education to be more eco-conscious.

“This school sows an educational DNA and the idea would be to replicate this type of school to all departments of Uruguay because this is the type of education that we are all looking for. Now we have it so we need to replicate it in Uruguay and in all the world because we really want this for this era,” says Alejandro Sanchez, Felipe’s father.

As part of this experiment in green citizenship, some children participated in the building of the school.

Neighbours and volunteers collected the 2,000 used tyres, 5,000 glass bottles, 2,000 square metres of cardboard and 8,000 aluminium cans to build this ecological project.

About 60% of the building is made of recycled materials.

The 270-square metre school is not connected to the national electricity grid or any potable water network.

It uses a system to filter rain water. Children are responsible for cleaning the filters themselves.

This way, the school creates a green code of conduct to follow.

In the classroom too, the learning system is meant to foster community participation and autonomy, says Rita Montans, a teacher.

Thanks to a multigrade system, students from different grade levels learn together and help each other.

“Our core teaching is based on principles of sustainability, environmental protection and coexistence so naturally, it creates an environment where it is easier to make relations. The multigrade system enables a fourth-grade child to study with a third-grade student and monitor him/her. A second-grade student can be in preschool and a first-grade child can be with third-grade students. There is a natural integration and interaction between students that is inherent to the way of teaching and that benefits us,” she says.

A community project, the school has three teachers, including the director, Luisa Alvarez.

“I hope that when younger children graduate from here, they take away with them this seed we sowed just like we grow plants in the nursery, and that the ideas to protect the environment and to live in harmony with the environment remain important. Maybe they can replicate these ideas later on and communicate them to their family,” she says.

The school was developed by Tagma, a Uruguayan civil society organisation.

With the collaboration of private companies, the construction of the building cost US $315,000.

“The main challenge is working together with the public education sector, universities, the private business sector and the non-profit sector with the same objective. This type of architecture has been done in many other places. It was adapted here to build a school, but people had experience (with materials like this) . However, using it to build a public school in Uruguay is unprecedented. We built it step by step by building trust networks and working in teams. This was the major challenge but also the most enriching part of the project,” says Victoria Gomez, Tagma’s Education coordinator.

Bit by bit, students of the sustainable school learn how to change their daily lifestyle to make a positive change on the planet.

Here the journey to save the planet is starting with a ride home on a bike.

This video was produced exclusively for The Associated Press in October 2016. It was published on January 22, 2017. Click here to watch or search for the words: URUGUAY SUSTAINABLE SCHOOL

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