- Associated Press - Monday, April 21, 2014

OXFORD, Miss. (AP) - The Oxford School District’s traditional school colors of blue and gold are facing some stiff competition by the color green now that the district is becoming synonymous with healthy food choices, sustainability efforts and energy efficiency.

The Oxford High School is headed toward becoming the first high school in Mississippi to become LEED Silver Certified. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, is a building certification process through the U.S. Green Building Council that promotes high-performance green buildings.

Following right alongside that effort are the green ways being embraced at Bramlett Elementary School.

Bramlett Elementary planted in its new learning garden recently and several other Oxford schools have had their gardens underway for some time.

The district’s Good Food for Oxford Schools program, designed to make the school cafeteria menus healthier and educate students and their families about healthy food choices, has also garnered the district some positive national attention this year.

Given that all these green-themed initiatives are taking place simultaneously, it’s no wonder Oxford is getting a reputation as a school district concerned with the many issues associated with sustainability.

“We have a responsibility to take care of the world that is entrusted to us,” Oxford Superintendent Brian Harvey said. “Sustainability is something that we must educate future generations about. It is morally and fiscally responsible.”

That philosophy was certainly one of the main concerns when the district’s new $30 million high school was being designed by Eley Guild Hardy Architects.

“School officials say the reduced energy use at the new high school will be equivalent to more than 200 homes annually, equaling more than $6 million in overall savings and avoided costs over the next 15 years,” according to an Oxford School District news release.

“The school will decrease a significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions that officials say are equal to carbon withdrawn by 537 acres of pine forest annually.”

Some of these energy saving elements include energy efficient lights that only turn on when motion is detected within a room, specially designed windows that allow the most light in to warm the rooms in the winter and a space to develop a large garden where students will be able to grow a portion of their food served in the cafeteria, a practice that is being introduced in many of the other city schools.

Bramlett kindergarten students got a taste of this green effort when they recently planted lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard and radish seeds in their new learning garden. Oxford school officials say they not only want to lead by example by being energy efficient, but by educating kids while they’re young to become more aware of conservation efforts as well so that one day they may contribute to the cause and make healthier choices.

“I think that getting these kids hands in the dirt will allow them to make a connection with their food in a whole new way and will make them way more likely to choose healthier foods and take part in what we’re doing in the cafeterias,” said Sunny Young, director of Good Food for Oxford Schools.

The students were split up into three groups and each group was given a fun task to do as part of the planting process. As one group read “Curious George Plants a Tree,” another group colored a picture that listed all parts of a plant from its roots to its budding flowers and veggies, and the third group carefully placed their seeds in the dirt boxes to be grown. Each group of students took turns doing each of the three tasks.

Many, including Bramlett parents, have stood behind the barely a year old Good Food for Oxford Schools organization as it has gained national attention by being one of the brain child’s of conservation implementation ideas.

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