“Hey kids, we got a really big check!” Michelle Lee announces to her 10th grade biology class. The check is almost as big as Lee, an instructor at James Island Charter High School. It’s worth a whopping $10,000, and it was written by the Sustainability Institute of South Carolina, a local environmental nonprofit group. Previously, Lee’s students applied for a grant from the nonprofit in order to fund various earth-friendly projects at the school, including the construction of a green wall.

The Grants Reinvesting Environmental Ethics in Neighborhood Sustainability (GREENS) grant is the brainchild of Alan Myers Davis, a senior at the College of Charleston who interns at the Sustainability Institute. Last year he approached the nonprofit with an idea to raise money to give an environmental grant to local high school students.

“Children solve problems differently than adults. Their imagination allows them to think outside the box,” Davis says. “Adults think about how they might be limited by policy and regulations.”

One of the requirements of the grant was that it had to be written by the students. “We wanted to have an impact on local schools by implementing a sustainable idea on a high school campus,” says Sustainability Institute Executive Director Bryan Cordell. “But, we really wanted the ideas to come from the kids.”

Lee confirms this, saying, “The students did everything. All I did was help guide them.”

The biology teacher explains that her kids got an in-class presentation from the Lowcountry chapter of Earth Force (See story on p. 31), another environmental nonprofit group that focuses on education. The two groups worked together on the project. Lee then walked her students around campus and brain-stormed about what they could do to improve their campus and make it more green.

“The kids saw that there were giant puddles under the gutters, so they did research on making a rain garden,” Lee says. According to the student-written grant, “By collecting and storing water, it will reduce flooding and erosion on campus and can be used to water plants.”

The students hope the puddles can be used to water the plants on their biggest project, a green wall, which is similar to a green roof, but instead of planting trees, flowers, and other plants on top of the building, the vegetation would grow on the side. If designed correctly, the green wall will help insulate the school and reduce cooling costs. In the case of the James Island project, the wall will feature only native plants.

“We hope to put the green wall on the road that goes by the school, so everyone can see it,” says Lee.

In fact, the green wall is a big part of why James Island Charter High was awarded the grant. Cordell explains, “It is a great educational opportunity not only with the school but also throughout the community.” Lee expects there to be plaques and explanations throughout the pathways so anyone can learn about the native plants and wildlife that will live there.

Students will line the green wall with plants that naturally attract butterflies, forming a butterfly garden. Lee hopes that sometime in the future, her classes may be able to participate in migrating butterfly research. “The whole thing will have huge benefits for future students,” she says. “One day, science students will actually be able to go outside and see some of what they are learning about!”

Everyone involved in the project wants to continue it. Davis wants to make the G.R.E.E.N.S. fund coordinator a permanent internship through the CofC.

Lee pledges to continue to work on environmental education. “Even if we don’t get $10,000 every year, we can still make a difference,” she says.