Nestled in the trees of suburban Atlanta's Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve stands the foundation of a school that is being built with partly recycled materials.
When it is finished, Arabia Mountain High School will have naturally lit classrooms and an aggressive recycling program.
It's part of a "green school" movement that is growing in popularity in the United States, with schools leaning toward solar panels, living roofs and wetlands. School districts say the environmentally friendly properties save energy costs while educating students about the world around them.
"In the past 6 months, it's been overwhelming," said Lindsay Baker, manager of the U.S. Green Building Council's school certification program. "There is a general agreement in schools that this is the issue that schools need to be thinking about."
Nearly 300 schools are on a waiting list for certification from the council, which sets nationally recognized standards for environmentally friendly buildings. So many schools are going green that the council, which previously certified schools based on commercial-building guidelines, just came out with benchmarks specifically for schools.
So far, 27 schools have received the "green" certification.
The Council of Educational Facility Planners International estimates that schools will spend $53 billion (39.4 billion EUR) this year on construction alone and that green building will comprise as much as 10 percent of the school construction market by 2010, a rapid growth from almost nonexistence a few years ago.
In Colorado, ice made during off-peak hours at Fossil Ridge High School in Fort Collins helps cool the building during the day.
The roof of the gym at Tarkington Elementary School in Chicago is a flower garden that helps insulate the building during the city's cold winters.
Such wildflower gardens and solar panel arrays make perfect hands-on learning labs for students, and the sunlight-lit classrooms create happier, healthier children, educators said.
A study by school officials in Washington state found green schools have better student performance and fewer absences. In 2005, Washington state lawmakers used the study to require new schools getting state money to be green.
For teachers like Rod Shroufe at Clackamas High School in Clackamas, Oregon - one of the first green schools in the nation when it opened six years ago - the green building movement makes his job easier.
The environmental studies teacher takes his students on strolls through the school's adjoining wetland and lets them explore the solar panel array on the top of the building as part of class projects.
His students have put more than 3,000 native plants in the ground around the school in the past two years, helping to eradicate an acre of blackberries, which are not native to Oregon and choke out other vegetation.
"There are real tangible things these kids get from it in addition to knowledge," Shroufe said. "Hopefully when they're adults they'll make informed decisions based on that."
North Clackamas senior Trevor Dunsmuir hopes to work at an environmental nonprofit after college, a path he chose after taking Shroufe's classes. As his senior project, the 17-year-old organized an environmental club and has helped neighboring schools do the same.
"That's pretty much my favorite thing about this school," he said.
In suburban Atlanta, crews are building Arabia Mountain High School, Georgia's first green school built by a public school district. The $53 million (39.4 million EUR) DeKalb County school, set to open in 2009, is designed to preserve the pristine wilderness around it while teaching students to be kinder to the planet.
"You don't have to go too far to study - it's right on your back porch," said Cassandra Anderson-Littlejohn, chairwoman of DeKalb County Board of Education. "It's a wonderful opportunity for learning, as well as an opportunity to conserve dollars for the system."
Like most school districts building green schools, DeKalb County is willing to shell out more money on the front end - generally about 2 percent more in construction costs - to ensure lower utility bills over the long run.
The Washington state study found green schools cut energy costs by up to 50 percent.
Happy educators and students also mean happy parents.
"We get so many compliments about how nice a school it is," said Jill Wingler, whose son, Josh, is in first grade at Third Creek Elementary in rural Statesville, North Carolina, an early green school. "We're losing our resources, and children need to be aware of these things."
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