Students showcase green projects funded by growing city grant program

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Students in and around Austin are showing off sustainability projects funded by city grants during a showcase Friday.

The Bright Green Future grant program is celebrating its 300th award this year since its inception. The city’s Office of Sustainability, which administers the grants, estimates 70,000 students have taken part in green projects around central Texas.

The first grant, in 2012, went to Cunningham Elementary in south Austin to develop a community garden. The group Partners for Education, Agriculture and Sustainability (PEAS), which itself grew out of the need for outdoor education at Cunningham, runs the garden and has grown substantially alongside the grant program.

“Last year we supported about 2,400 kids in 18 schools,” PEAS deputy director Ilya Shmulenson said. “And it all started from here, from this space.”

Parents started the garden before Bright Green Future came along, but the grant provided seed money, literally, to help it grow into what it is now.

“It’s just that wonderful opportunity to really say, ‘Notice the space you live in and what’s happening around you,'” Shmulenson said.

Just a couple blocks away, Crockett High School has gotten three grants from the city over the years. Students got money to build desks for an outdoor classroom and an aquaponics greenhouse, and most recently to install four water bottle filling stations to cut down on plastic waste.

“These children are the ones that are going to inherit all the problems we’ve created, and we need to give them the skills to be the problem-solvers,” said Lucia Athens, the city of Austin’s chief sustainability officer.

In addition to the intangible benefits of providing outdoor learning and environmental consciousness, she said, the city has cataloged a range of tangible impacts the program has had as well.

Over its time, the program has funded 337 grants. Schools are eligible for up to $3,000 per award, and the city has given out $603,000 culled from various departments and sources. 

This year alone, Bright Green Future awarded more than 100 grants, up from just three the first year, thanks in part to a bump in funding from the city’s Urban Forestry Program. 

Athens said students have grown 40,000 pounds of produce, offset 150,000 car miles by biking to school instead, and saved 1.2 million gallons of water through the grant program.

The 5th annual Student Innovation Showcase, featuring some of the projects funded by the city, takes place Friday at 5:30 p.m. in the atrium of City Hall. It’s one of five happening around the country this month in association with EcoRise, an Austin-based environmental education organization, through which the city also provides Bright Green Future grants.

As the program continues to grow, so do some of the projects its launched. Cunningham’s garden, for instance, will include bees next year, and PEAS plans to keep expanding its reach into Austin-area schools.

“Knowing that we have the backing of the city and the backing of the district is essential to what we do,” Shmulenson said.

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