Evergreen Elementary School Wins National Award

The Lakebay school has successfully incorporated outdoor experiential learning and will launch its “Eagles’ Quest” program for highly capable students in the fall.


Evergreen and Artondale Elementary schools are the only two schools in Washington State to receive the 2024 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School award. It honors the efforts that staff and community members have contributed to the development of easily accessible outdoor learning spaces and a focus on integrated environmental education.

In July, Evergreen STEAM teacher Wendy Moore will join Superintendent Krestin Bahr and other Peninsula School District representatives in Washington D.C. for the award ceremony. (STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics.)

Nominations for the awards were initiated by Elizabeth Schmitz, the program supervisor of environment and sustainability education in the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The Green Ribbon School designation is for schools, districts, early learning centers, and postsecondary institutions that demonstrate progress in three key areas: reducing environmental impacts and costs; improving health and wellness; and providing effective environmental and sustainability education.

Both Evergreen and Artondale are housed in new buildings designed to reduce environmental impacts and operate at a lower cost than the buildings they replaced. Both schools opened in 2021, Evergreen in September and Artondale in November.

Research indicates that when children develop a sense of stewardship regarding their environment, it contributes to academic success. OSPI developed the Environment and Sustainability curriculum that is integrated with state learning standards.

Evergreen will reopen in the fall as a magnet school with two Peninsula Accelerated Classroom Enrichment classrooms for its “Eagles’ Quest” program, one for second and third grades and the other for grades four and five. This program will serve highly capable students from the Vaughn, Minter Creek, and Evergreen service areas. The curriculum will incorporate the Environmental and Sustainability goals and learning standards adopted by OSPI.

The stated goal is “to support academic success and lifelong learning and to develop a responsible citizenry capable of applying knowledge of ecological, economic, and sociocultural systems to meet current and future needs.”

The staff at Evergreen has worked to enhance opportunities for outdoor learning for the past decade. Before new construction, the current parking lot was an outdoor instructional space. Invasive plants had been removed and replaced with native species so students could learn about them and observe seasonal changes. Undeterred by the loss of this space, the staff focused on developing new and expanded outdoor learning opportunities.

Evergreen Principal Hugh Maxwell said he is enthusiastic about the benefits of outdoor experiential learning. “Students begin to understand the relaxing and calming effect of being outdoors and the application of hands-on learning engages them and deepens their learning about their environment.”

He added that children who have the opportunity to engage in outdoor learning seem to be more willing to put down their electronic devices and go outside.

Maxwell also credited community generosity to help reestablish and expand access to outdoor resources. Three new areas have been created since the new building opened: the Garden, the Meadow, and a trail system.

Shortly after opening, Evergreen was selected as one of the schools to pilot a transitional kindergarten program emphasizing outdoor learning. The Garden provided support for this program goal. All Evergreen classes will do STEAM activities there. Purdy Topsoil & Gravel donated soil for the raised beds and volunteers from Harbor Covenant Church helped with the installation of the beds and planting. Children have grown a variety of vegetables — the current crop of interest is radishes.

The Meadow is on the south side of the school. A Light House grant provided funding for native plants and two small pavilions. The men’s service group from Harbor Covenant North Campus buried stumps and helped install the pavilions. Trees and additional labor were donated by Heron Landscape and Design. On Earth Day in April, representatives from OSPI visited Evergreen and planted one of the trees in honor of the Green Ribbon School award. By June, the area was filled with wildflowers in bloom.

Evergreen’s Moore has been actively involved in providing outdoor opportunities for students. Although her STEAM responsibilities include design and engineering, physical science, and technology, she also ensures that every class has multiple chances to explore the meadow, the garden, and the trails. Maxwell called Moore “our outdoor guru.”

Because students have been engaged in examining their environment, there was great interest when trail cameras became available. Before the spring break, classroom teachers involved their students in discussion about monitoring wildlife around their campus. The classrooms selected spots along the trails where motion cameras could be installed. When school resumed, the cameras were retrieved and students analyzed the photos and found they captured shots of squirrels, birds, a coyote, and a deer.

Students were amazed by the appearance of rare and unexpected animals in the photos. The cameras also picked up and confirmed local reports of unicorns frolicking about on the Key Peninsula. On closer analysis, students noticed that one of the photos showed a unicorn with a hand and concluded, “There’s a human in there.”