High school students become Living Building experts

By Drew Lavine

Posted October 29, 2018

Effective change starts in a young heart, before the old, habitual ways that no longer serve our highest expression of life have time to imprint themselves too deeply. The young heart sees more directly and clearly the natural way forward for humanity to become a conscious leader to a regenerative future on our planet.

When a group of Philadelphia Living Building Challenge Ambassadors, who had started and guided several local Living Future initiatives, came together in 2017 to ask “How can we better achieve our mission of moving towards living buildings and communities?”, everyone agreed: youth education to influence future generations of designers, builders, and clients. We knew we had growing-edge knowledge and experience to share with those just starting to learn about how we create our environment, but we also knew that children and youth have unique perspectives and new ideas to share, that can guide us in return. We saw that if we walk together, we have a hope of finding our sustainable home in a socially just, culturally rich and ecologically restorative planetary community.  


The goal of our initiative is to share our passion and expertise in deep green building practices with students of all ages from K-12 to higher education. To date, our volunteers in this initiative have participated in green building fairs at schools and discussed deep green building education with some amazing teachers at local public and private schools. Out of this outreach and dialogue has emerged a special partnership with Upper Dublin High School. Erin Loch, an environmental science teacher at the school, met a few of our members at a green school fair in early 2017. Our vision matched hers and her enthusiasm matched ours. Over the course of the 2017-18 school year, a team of our volunteers worked with Ms. Loch and her colleagues to develop tools to teach high school students about the Living Building Challenge.  In April 2018, we gave our first Living Building Challenge in-class presentations to over one hundred and fifty 10th grade environmental science students and then workshopped with them on their final projects for the conceptual design of a green building guided by the Living Building Challenge principles.


The early success of aligning the environmental science curriculum with Living Building Challenge principles led Erin and Lisa Fantini, who is the director of Robbins Park Environmental Education Center, to propose a new course for Upper Dublin High School for the 2018-19 school year - a project-based learning (PBL) environmental science course based on the Living Building Challenge.  The project at the center of the PBL is the learning-lab building at the nature center. The 38-acre public park is used as an outdoor classroom by students of all ages in the Upper Dublin school district to advance and deepen their understanding of the environment, and supplement in-class science curriculums. Over the 40 years since the learning lab was built, the needs of modern education curriculums have outgrown the modest structure.  


The new Environmental Science PBL course began in September of 2018 and is based on the philosophy and imperatives of the Living Building Challenge. The course will explore in depth all seven Petals and twenty Imperatives required for a certified Living Building, as applied to the Robbins Park  Environmental Education Center. Along the way, students will research, design and present to real project stakeholders and the public the strategies needed to transform the Center into a Living Building.


The school year started with a bang with our volunteers in the classroom the first week in September leading an introduction to the Living Building Challenge for the class of twenty 10th, 11th, and 12th graders.  The next day we met the students at Robbins Park for an LBC photo scavenger hunt in the forest. The second week of school featured a volunteer-led field trip into Philadelphia to see some of the cIty’s best green projects and sustainable sites.

The field trip included the following stops, tour guides, and topics:


  • Re:Vision Architecture’s office / Drew Lavine and Kristie Kozenewski / sustainable materials, healthy workspaces, and renewable energy generation
  • Venice Island Park / Jason Curtis from Andropogon Associates / combined sewers, stormwater management and native and adaptive planting

  • Friends Center / Christopher Moore / Rainwater harvesting and geothermal systems

  • Cira Green / Laura Hansplant from Roofmeadow / Green and “blue” roofs for urban stormwater management, urban habitat creation

  • Penn State at the Navy Yard / Lisa Shulock / adaptive reuse, high-performance mechanical systems, and energy conservation measures


The energetic students came prepared to not only ask advanced questions but to be challenging, curious and make real-time connections between scientific theory and the built environment. All left inspired to jump into their new PBL course!


The volunteer team will be posting updates here throughout the year to document this exciting new collaboration! Follow the students' journey on their Facebook Group! 


 If you want to get involved with the first LBC-based environmental science class please email Drew Lavine.  

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