The Value of a Network

Read about Bill’s description of schools across Montana saving money and resources through unique projects;


map of smart schools
Smart School locations across the state

Montana schools are very ambitious and have amazing plans for the future. Schools from Glendive to Bigfork are working on projects ranging from purchasing earth tubs capable of industrial composting, to installing solar arrays, to building aquaponic systems, to supporting alternative transportation initiatives. Teachers and students across Montana want to learn how to reduce their environmental impacts and create environmentally conscious learning environments.

A large part of my service with the SMART Schools Challenge is connecting schools to resources that can help them achieve their conservation goals. After endless hours researching answers to tricky composting or recycling questions, I came to a realization. Who better to teach Montana schools about various sustainability initiatives than other Montana Schools that have already implemented these programs? Montana schools with experience in resource conservation are much more valuable SMART resources than I ever could be. Unless I become a teacher, I will never fully appreciate the challenges of balancing the desires of PTOs, maintenance teams, and the administration when trying to implement innovative projects. However, other schools do and can share their experiences overcoming similar obstacles in their own community.  After finally arriving on this obvious conclusion, I have spent much of the past few months trying to make the SMART Schools Challenge into more than a friendly competition among Montana schools. Other SMART Schools stakeholders and I have been trying to leverage the Challenge as a network to promote the spread of innovative ideas among Montana schools. We have been working to facilitate conversations between schools working on similar projects. These important discussions will allow SMART Schools to learn from their peers’ struggles and successes as they work to reduce their environmental footprints.  The results have been amazing. Teachers from across Montana are taking time out of their busy days to explain to strangers how to apply for grants to acquire renewable energy systems, why working with local police departments is necessary to create alternative transportation programs, or to articulate strategies to foster support for a community composting. As the pilot year of the SMART Schools Challenge approaches its conclusion, I cannot help but be excited for the future of this network. Next year, we anticipate attracting even more schools with new, innovative resource conservation ideas. Hopefully, the SMART Schools Challenge can do our small part to spread their ideas across the state and inspire Montana schools to save money and resources today.

DSC_0471Bill Pedersen graduated from Hamilton College with a B.A. in Environmental Studies. He spent last year as an Energy Corps Member serving with the Energy Coordinating Agency of Philadelphia. During his time with ECA, he helped conduct energy audits on low income homes, presented at community energy awareness events and taught at ECA’s Green Jobs Training Center. Bill is serving at the Montana Department of Environmental Quality this year, launching the Governor’s Smart School Initiative.

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