From the ground up 

Growing environmentalists at cooper school

"Excuse me, Miss Shorter? Do I compost this or throw it away?" a small voice can be heard asking through the other end of the phone. Kate Shorter, the founder and director of the Cooper School, takes a short time-out from the interview to answer her student's question. It's questions like these that prove to Shorter that her school is making a difference.

At the Cooper School in West Ashley, composting is only part of how students are living "green." In fact, most of the elementary school students probably have no idea how environmentally friendly their school is. Shorter, however, thought of everything, from the ground up.

The school itself is a green building. Shorter says it used to be an office, originally built in the 1950s. Renovations were done prior to the school's opening in September.

"At every turn, we considered conservation and air quality," she says.

During the improvements, Shorter says they removed the insulation and replaced it with spray foam insulation, which "contains no chemicals, so the air quality is good and improves air circulation, which helps with heating and cooling costs."

The paint on the walls does not contain volatile organic compounds, and the finishes on the floors are water-based so they do not cause off-gassing, Shorter explains.

Even what the students touch is as natural as possible. There are baskets and wooden bins instead of plastic containers; they try to use rags instead of paper towels whenever possible. "Caring for the environment is part of that," Shorter says. "I didn't say, 'Let's be green.' I said, if we're seriously going to focus on care, then let's focus on how individual actions impact the world, and what we need to do to improve them."

Bianca Swinburne teaches first grade at the Cooper School. She believes the school is creating individuals who will take a role in caring for the environment. "We give them the tools, and they take off with it," she says. "They are very proactive in recycling, helping with the gardening at the school, turning off the lights, even using the backside of paper in the classroom, instead of getting a new sheet."

The Cooper School is currently educating students in grades one through three. As those students grow older, the school will accommodate them, eventually teaching through sixth grade.

The Green Life

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