Green School in Bali
Originally appears in the Spring 2013 issue
Driving north from Bali’s chaotic capital city of Denpasar on one of the main roads heading north towards Ubud, it’s difficult to get a sense of the magic that lies ahead. One still glimpses rice fields and Hindu temples, but the Bali of old is increasingly giving way to motorcycle dealerships, internet shops and garishly lit 24-hour minimarts that have replaced traditional, family-owned warung. However, upon reaching the village of Sibang Kaja and taking a turn down a 500 meter bumpy, rutted road, another side of the Island of the Gods comes into view. Standing in the parking area overlooking the pristine Ayung River valley, the first structure visible through the jungle foliage is a stunning covered bamboo bridge, built in a style reminiscent of the Minang people of Sumatra, with curved roof ends jutting up towards the sky like the prow of a ship. To paraphrase “The Wizard of Oz”, Dorothy, we’re not in Kuta anymore…
Welcome to Green School Bali, one of the most unique international schools on the planet!
After nearly five years of operation, GreenSchool has garnered attention and acclaim from all over the world for its pioneering efforts to interweave academic learning with environmentally sustainable practices. (In fact, it was recently named “GreenestSchool on Earth” by the U.S. Green Building Council, the organization that provides LEED certification for environmentally friendly buildings.) GreenSchool boasts one of the most beautiful campuses imaginable, with extraordinary bamboo structures rising out of the jungle, surrounded by lush organic gardens and bisected by the AyungRiver. GreenSchool serves an international population of 270 students from 55 countries in Pre-K through Grade 12, with boarding available for Grades 6 and up. The school also supports a scholarship program for local Balinese children who would otherwise not be able to afford the fees; these currently represent about 10% of the population although through a fund-raising program Green School hopes to raise this figure to 20%.
Green School offers a student-centered curriculum designed to cultivate and challenge all aspects of a child’s human capacities. It includes all of the traditional subjects, but academic education at Green School comes wrapped in rich layers of experiential, environmental, and entrepreneurial learning plus the creative arts. As much as possible, lessons at Green School are taken out of the classroom and applied in hands-on ways that have a connection to the natural world. The school’s goals are simple but ambitious: to provide its students with the skills and content to be effective and successful competitors in an ever-shrinking world while at the same time expanding their sense of being more environmentally responsible citizens with a different sense of possibilities for how we can continue to develop as a fragile planet.
The campus has been designed and built to have as small an impact as possible on the environment. Therefore, only a handful of trees were cut down, and most of those were successfully replanted elsewhere (several structures still feature live trees growing through their roofs!), and buildings were erected according to the natural topography of the land, so no moving of the earth was required. Environmentally friendly bamboo is the primary structural material used, but other local, natural, and renewable elements are also employed, including alang-alang thatch, volcanic stone, rammed earth, and traditional Balinese mud wall.
Open air structures allow for natural light and ventilation, and aided by ceiling fans and an innovative system of enclosable, air-conditioned bubbles, stay cool even during the hottest days in the jungle. Green School grows much of the food it consumes, including organic rice, fruit, and vegetables, and the school is in the process of getting off the grid through a combination of solar, micro-hydro power, and biogas systems.
The solar project consists of 108 photo-voltaic panels mounted on bamboo poles and arrayed on a slope between the cathedral-like Heart of School building (it contains over six kilometers of bamboo!) and several of the primary classrooms in a formation that suggests a landscape art installation rather than a source of energy that already powers much of the campus. Primary and middle school students helped design and build creative bamboo frames in animal shapes to house the panels, while students in the high school assisted with the grant-writing proposal to help fund the project.
The hydro-project is called a Gravitational Water Vortex and is known in daily use as the Vortex. It’s a very innovative yet simple technology invented by an Austrian engineer named Franz Zotloterer who realized that you could harness a relatively flat river like the Ayung for electricity without building a big, invasive dam. His solution was to dig a small tunnel that diverts a very small percentage of the river’s water down into a large cylinder. Both the tunnel and the cylinder were carved from locally quarried stone, and through a combination of gravity and centrifugal force, the water comes down and gets pushed into a very powerful vortex or whirlpool that will soon be used to spin a turbine that sits in the middle of the structure. (It looks like a big, flushing toilet!) The water then goes out a hole in the bottom of the cylinder and right back into the river. Between the solar project and the Vortex, Green School expects to be supplying all of its own energy needs through clean, renewable sources by the end of 2012.
Green School students take part in a number of other innovative environmental initiatives on-campus, including a project in association with the Begawan Foundation to breed several endangered bird species. The centerpiece of the project are the Bali Starlings, lovely white birds with a distinctive blue mask around their eyes. It’s thought that in the wilds of Bali today there may be as few as twenty adults left! Farmers kill them because they are seen as a pest, and they fetch high prices on the black markets of Asia by collectors who like to keep them in cages. Students in Grade 2 learn about the Bali Starlings in the classroom, breed meal worms to feed the birds, do art projects about them and then get to take a mini-field trip within the campus to study them up close and in person. Within the next few months they will get involved in a wild-release project. Pretty amazing!
Starting from the Kindergarten, every class at Green School has its own veggie garden, which the students help to design at the beginning of the school year. “We think it’s important for kids to know where their food comes from, something many of us in the developed world have no idea about anymore”, says Green Studies teacher Noan Fesnoux. “Our children make their own compost using organic waste, prepare the ground, plant the gardens, tend them and then later harvest and eat what they have grown”. Last year’s Grade 3 class planted a pizza garden consisting of tomatoes, basil, peppers and other veggies. At the end of the term they invited the whole school to attend a pizza party!
Grade 2 teachers Mona Dalmia and Yulie Lim worked with their students this year to build solar ovens, which they used to roast vegetables from their garden. For dessert they baked chocolate chip cookies using chocolate the kids made themselves from the school’s 200 organic cacao trees.
Bali, like many parts of Asia, grows rice as its staple crop. But more than a food, rice is in many ways the cultural backbone of the island. Primary students at Green School therefore study the role of rice in Balinese art, mythology, history, and society, but as per the school’s goals, the learning is not restricted to the classroom. At the beginning of the year, every class from Grade 1 to Grade 8 gets its own rice field, which students plant, tend (including using recycled materials in art class to make scarecrows), harvest and eat. “Chances are that very few of our students, including the Balinese children here, will grow up to become rice farmers,” says Green Studies teacher Matt Shroads. “Our hope is that this project will serve to reinforce some of the classroom academic learning, but also give these kids a sense of appreciation for the very hard work that goes into planting rice, a better idea of how the food they eat is produced, and a sense of closer connection to the natural world.”
Students in Grade 5 participated in one of the year’s most interesting projects interweaving traditional academic learning with environmental sustainability: an attempt to calculate the school’s carbon footprint and figure out how much bamboo would need to be planted to offset that carbon production. “The kids had to go all around the school and find out what kind of appliances are being used, how many of them are there, how much power do they consume, working on communication schools in English and Bahasa Indonesia”, recounts teacher Eva Green. “Then it became a big maths problem, converting and calculating to come up with total usage.” Following this, the students worked on their persuasive writing and visual art skills to come up with a marketing campaign encouraging people to plant bamboo as a way to off-set carbon production. One of the findings was that the single largest drain on electricity was a slushy machine in the school’s Green Warung used to make yummy iced fruit drinks, a favorite treat on the campus. “I was really proud of my students”, says Eva. “They took their report to the student council, who voted unanimously to get rid of the machine as a result.” What a great example of integrated learning and community action!
Green School is located in the middle of the jungle in a country where regulatory framework is quite loose, and much of what happens there could not be easily replicated in other parts of the world due to more demanding physical and political climates. But there are many things teachers can do to incorporate environmental sustainability into their practice no matter where they are located.
A partial list follows—all of these things are currently happening at Green School :
- Find an area at school to grow your own vegetables and have students design and plant a garden.
- Help students design and conduct an audit of your school’s energy and water use; look for ways to reduce your consumption.
- Design and implement a school-wide recycling program.
- Create art or architecture projects from found materials, both organic and inorganic.
- Take students into a natural setting and encourage them to write songs or poems inspired by the environment.
- Learn about local flora and fauna species and take part in conservation efforts to protect them.
- Take part in a clean-up of a local beach or park.
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Ben Macrory is the Communications Director at the Green School in Badung, Bali, Indonesia. For more information, please go to www.greenschool.org