The Kansas Association for Conservation and Environmental Education has named Madison Elementary Kansas Green School of the Year.

Madison is among the recipients of the 2019 Excellence in Conservation and Environmental Education Awards. Nominated by their peers, these awardees exhibit outstanding innovation, leadership and achievement, as well as collaboration and cooperation within and beyond the environmental education field.

These awards recognize Kansas public and private schools that have demonstrated innovation, leadership, whole school involvement and an integrated, holistic, sustainable approach to implementing environmental projects with a strong environmental education component into their schools.

Big things sometimes come in small packages. Nestled in the heart of the Flint Hills of Kansas, Madison Elementary serves about 130 students from grades pre-K - 6. While small in number, Madison Elementary is big on impact in engaging students to lead the way for greener and healthier schools.

The school formed the Madison Outdoor Learning Center with the goal of engaging students in problem-based, hands-on learning for all students in the district, from PreK - 12. The learning center provides opportunities for students to care for chickens, collect the eggs and sell the eggs to providing funding for the project.

In addition, the Madison Outdoor Learning Center has raised beds for preschool through sixth-grade classrooms. The students plant, tend and harvest the produce from the gardens in collaboration with teachers, administrators and community members, learning invaluable science and math lessons while also focusing on healthy eating. The food harvested from the gardens is donated to the local food bank, which also serves as an important lesson in providing service for those in the community in need of fresh produce.

But they didn’t stop there. The students of Madison began a school-wide recycling program, which is run entirely by students. Elementary students collect cardboard throughout the week and then the recycling team, made up of high school and junior high students, pack the cardboard up and take it downtown to the local recycling trailer every-Wednesday. Students learn more about the importance of recycling by taking a whole school field trip to the recycling facility to connect the learning for students about the life-cycle of different products.

With the success of these project-based learning activities, the school is expanding even further to include a greenhouse in the Madison Outdoor Learning Center, which will allow the school to engage students in STEM as they extend the growing season for food and do so in an environment that requires systems controlling the temperature and moisture.

The volunteer group of teachers and administrators who have researched programs in other schools, written grants and worked to get the greenhouse installed are hopeful that in addition to the STEM learning opportunities, eating fresh produce from the greenhouse will encourage students to try foods they might not otherwise try and develop a lifelong healthier lifestyle.

Also recognizing that community health in the Flint Hills is dependent on the health of the Tallgrass Prairie itself, teachers, administrators and community volunteers are also working on installing a tallgrass prairie patch as an outdoor learning area within the center. With an easily accessible patch of native flora and fauna to explore, teachers will connect students with the place they live and provide a hands-on learning opportunity to learn about this unique ecosystem.

“Our outcome is to instill a sense of understanding of the urgent care needed for protecting the remaining Tallgrass Prairie of the Flint Hills,” said Madison Teacher Rochelle Butler.

Awardees will be recognized at an Awards Celebration hosted by KACEE on Friday at Sunset Zoo in Manhattan. The event is sponsored by KACEE, Civic Plus, the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, The Kansas Forest Service, The Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Midwest Energy and the Sunset Zoo. Ticket information is available at or by calling 785-532-1902.

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