The U.S. Department of Education announced Flance Early Learning Center in St. Louis, MO is among the 2021 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools award honorees.
Flance Early Learning Center was nominated by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, in partnership with Missouri Green Schools. Flance Early Learning Center serves a racially, culturally, developmentally, and socioeconomically diverse population of children between ages 6 weeks and 6 years. Flance ELC was founded with a desire to give all children the best possible start in life, regardless of their families’ socioeconomic status. Indeed, 86% of the school population qualifies for free and reduced-priced lunch.
The school building was built with LEED certification in mind and two-thirds of the grounds are planted with water-efficient and regionally appropriate plants, but this school doesn’t stop there. Flance continues to lower its environmental impact with the adoption of composting and recycling, has lowered its greenhouse gas emissions by 37% since tracking began two years ago, and is onboarding a full-time Sustainability Coordinator next month.
Flance is also committed to improving the health of students, families, and the community. Flance was named the only Gold Level Healthy Way to Grow Center in the United States by the American Heart Association in October 2020. In partnership with Affinia Healthcare, Flance houses an onsite health clinic to provide a wide range of health services for Flance families. As a designated EnVision Center by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development since May 2020, the early learning center has provided over 25 tons of free, fresh produce valued at over $180,000 to families and local community neighbors via a weekly free fresh food box program.
Flance provides meeting space and access to the commercial kitchen for neighborhood families to improve their quality of life. Valuing health and the environment is also embedded in the curriculum, from math lessons that involve making a healthy snack to vocabulary acquisition reflective of the natural world and valuing stewardship.
Flance’s Urban Garden consists of 20 raised beds in which students grow vegetables, herbs, and fruit. Flance partner Urban Harvest helps with nutrition education in the on-site community garden. In August 2020, Flance initiated an after-school program that encouraged neighborhood children from ages 8 to 14 to explore and learn about the on-site garden. A school chef prepares nourishing meals, including organic baby food, incorporating a variety of fruits and vegetables daily. This is just a sampling of the many ways that Flance Early Learning Center works daily to improve health, lower environmental impact, and provide sustainability education!
Per Flance ELC Executive Director Tami Timmer, “While we believe we’ve earned every thread on this Green Ribbon Award, we are also deeply humbled by this federal recognition. Our location in north St. Louis City, working with children six weeks to six years old, is a shining example of progressive, quality education that includes health, wellness and sustainability programs. Flance is honored to be one of only three early childhood centers in the country to receive this valuable distinction. Our focus on equity, creativity, and quality is what certifies plans as a community and sustainability leader.
Incoming Flance Board President, Evan Fowler, shared “It’s an honor to be one of only three early education centers in the country to receive this distinction. We’re striving to be a beacon in North St. Louis, not just for quality early childhood education, but also sustainability, community, and equity. The US Department of Education’s Green Ribbon Award serves as an inspiring indication that, while our work is not done, we’re making great strides towards becoming that beacon.”
Flance demonstrates that centering health–of the students, the community, and the natural environment–can catalyze tremendous results. “We are so happy that Flance received this national award! The Flance story helps raise awareness that health is central to the green schools movement, and we know that this recognition will inspire other schools in our state to follow in their footsteps,” says Lesli Moylan, director of the Missouri Environmental Education Association (MEEA). With the US Green Building Council Missouri Gateway Chapter, MEEA co-manages Missouri Green Schools, a state-level support and recognition program that is also a conduit to the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School Award.
Across the country, 27 schools, three early learning centers, five districts, and five postsecondary institutions are being honored for their innovative efforts to reduce environmental impact and utility costs, improve health and wellness, and ensure effective sustainability education.
The honorees were named from a pool of candidates nominated by 20 states. The selectees include 24 public schools, five charter schools, one magnet school, and three nonpublic schools. Over half of the 2021 honorees are in communities where over 40 percent of the student body are eligible for free and reduced lunch.
The list of all selected schools, districts, colleges, and universities, as well as their nomination packages, can be found here. A report with highlights on the 40 honorees can be found here. More information on the federal recognition award can be found here. Resources for all schools to move toward the three Pillars can be found here. Information about Missouri Green Schools can be found here.