"It's not easy being green," lamented Kermit the Frog in a song first performed more than 40 years ago during the opening season of the children's TV program "Sesame Street."
Today's children at Learning Gate Community School might disagree. Their school has won yet another award for its environmentally friendly campus and curriculum.
Learning Gate is among 78 schools nationwide to receive the U.S. Department of Education's first-ever Green Ribbon School designation.
"And only one of eight charter schools, which is really significant," said Principal Patti Girard.
"We've been doing this for 25, 30 years, so it's really nice to see it blossom into an initiative by the U.S. Department of Education," said Girard, longtime owner/operator of a Lutz day school before founding Learning Gate in 2000.
Only 8 acres of the wooded 27-acre campus are developed, "But we consider the outside the classroom," said Girard. "When people first come out here, they're really amazed."
Beyond the "green" modular buildings with solar panels and biodegradable soy foam insulation, students tend gardens irrigated with water collected in rain barrels. Their organic fruit and vegetable crops are donated to Metropolitan Ministries.
The school's cistern system filters and purifies rainwater used to flush low-flow toilets. Faucets have automatic shutoff features.
The campus landscape contains native plants, so no sprinkler system is required. All told, conservation measures have cut water consumption about 70 percent, Girard said. "The kids are very conscious of it, too; they learn to conserve it."
Mandated "waste-free lunches" students bring to class in reusable containers have trimmed the school's annual disposal fees by $15,000, said Girard, whose small office is furnished with carpet squares manufactured from remnants, on a backing made from recycled plastic bottles.
The Green Ribbon award evaluated Learning Gate's efficiency of energy and water consumption, the health of the 600 students (kindergarten through ninth grade) and their knowledge of the environmental curriculum.
In announcing the Green Ribbon School award winners April 23 in Washington, D.C., Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said the winners "are taking outstanding steps to educate tomorrow's environmental leaders, and demonstrating how sustainability end environmental awareness make sense for the health of our students and our country."
Winners were selected from more than 350 schools nationwide that submitted applications. Only two other Florida schools won: in Miami and West Palm Beach.
The school at 16215 Hanna Road has captured the environmental spotlight in the past.
In 2010, Learning Gate became the first public school in the nation to receive platinum certification, the highest award of the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Schools standard. The LEED rating system tests the schools' energy and mechanical systems and emphasizes indoor air quality.
The ecofriendly construction earned a $250,000 grant from the Lowe's Charitable Education Foundation.