Thursday, August 13, 2020

Last month, the first phase of an exciting development at Westchester Day School began. Solar panels were installed on the school’s roof as part of a green initiative WDS has undertaken to reduce its carbon footprint. This project was enabled by an alumni parent and supporter, David Bieber. Mr. Bieber liked the idea of finding a way to help the school save money, create an educational opportunity for kids and be more green. According to Mr. Bieber, “It is all about the three Es: Education, Environment, and Economics.”

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In total, 532 solar panels will be installed and will provide 30% of the school’s power needs when the system is completed in the Spring. The plan, which was headed by longtime board member and alumni parent Barry Novick, is expected to save the school $500,000 to $1M over the life of the system. “Westchester Day School gets plenty of sunshine, so it makes financial sense to go solar and generate its own electricity for its daytime needs. This is also an excellent model for students of all ages to learn the value of nurturing our planet by using sustainable energy sources,” remarked Peter Grunthal, a founding member of Sustainable Westchester (on behalf of Mount Kisco), a committee member of the recent Solarize Westchester Campaign and a Westchester Day School grandparent.

Installing solar panels is at the nexus of the financial, moral and educational elements of a school. It also comes concurrently with other ways in which Westchester Day School is going green. With the support of Drs. Yael and Jeffrey Halaas, parents to three WDS students, the Westchester Day School kitchen has implemented changes to the plates, cups and bowls used by faculty and students on a daily basis. The new plates are compostable and made from a 100% reclaimed and renewable material, and the cups and bowls are now paper as well. All offices and classrooms have paper recycling containers, and several areas throughout the school have receptacles for plastics and cans. Dr. Halaas explained their involvement, saying, “Westchester Day School is our partner in teaching all our children to care for the world around them. Valuable steps like recycling and reducing our waste help improve our environment now and in the future.”

All of these changes provide tremendous learning opportunities for Westchester Day School students, both environmental and Jewish. This project reaffirms the school’s commitment to the environment, and demonstrates its belief in the importance of the environment and natural resources and using them appropriately to care for the planet. Judaism, which describes the Torah as “etz chayim hi” –a tree of life, also promotes ecological consciousness, the importance of trees and caring for the Earth, which is tied into the Judaic Studies curriculum across the grades. As WDS fourth graders learn, for example, when Bnei Yisrael entered Canaan, they were challenged to transform the land not only spiritually but also physically. They needed to learn how to irrigate the fields, how to conserve water, how to tend the crops and trees and make it into a habitat where both man and animal could live and work together. This path of learning further highlights the importance of the environment.

The subject of sustainability and environmentalism will be taught at every grade level. Preschool, elementary and middle school students alike will be made even more aware of environmental issues from history classes teaching how settlement affected the environment and indigenous populations; units on climate that incorporate lessons on global warming and pollution; planting in the school’s community garden; and learning about renewable and alternative energy sources. The school will also build on the lessons about composting already in place in some classrooms, and will be undertaking a school-wide composting program. “Not only is it vital to the preservation of our environment, but it is an important part of children’s moral development to use resources wisely and think about the impact of their actions,” said Ms. Judith Talesnick, assistant principal of the elementary school. “In addition, our Jewish tradition has clear directives on protecting the earth and the concept of ba’al tashchit (do not destroy) prohibits us from wasting our precious resources.”

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