If you’ve been reading along for any length of time you’ve probably noticed that we’re not too tethered to the idea of “school” in the traditional sense. It’s not that we’re anti-school, because we’re not at all. Schools are very important, they provide the basics for many, many kids but for too many families public schools are the only option available.
What if your could attend a school with an environmental impact of almost zero, where the buildings were created from natural materials in the area, where ecology and sustainability were daily lessons woven into the fabric of the traditional subjects? John Hardy’s Green School in the hills of Bali is that school. They’ve been named “the greenest school on earth” by the powers that be in America, and while that’s quite a title, our friend Ben humbly points out that they’ve still got a long way to go. Their plans are ambitious!
Some of the interesting features of Green School:
- All of the buildings are made from bamboo and most are open air
- The furniture is all bamboo too, from the tiny chairs in first grade to their enormous, towering “heart of school” building that may be the tallest freestanding bamboo structure in the world. We think it looks like a set out of Avatar.
- There are goats, chickens, pigs and water buffalo on campus, that the kids farm as part of their educations
- There are rice paddies and gardens for each grade that the children tend to feed themselves sustainable lunches and sell the produce at the school’s farm stand for families.
- There is a purpose built mud wrestling arena… yes really, in which a unique form of Balinese martial arts is practiced and performed, and where the young kids have a bit of a wallow a couple of times a month just for fun.
- The buildings are connected by lava rock paths.
- The school swimming pool is a gorgeous natural spring with a small waterfall by the edge of the river.
- 80% of the school’s energy is renewable and generated by the fern shaped array of solar panels.
- Very soon their vortex generator (the first of it’s kind in the world) will begin cranking out more than enough power for the school from the river that runs through the grounds.
- There is a project underway on the school grounds, supported by students to breed endangered Balinese starlings. There are fewer than 20 left in the wild in Bali, the school has bred up 94 thus far!
- Blackboards are bamboo painted with blackboard paint.
- White boards are recycled car window class backed with white paper.
- Trash bags are cloth.
- Toilets are composting.
- Lunch scraps are fed to the pigs by the fourth grade.
When we arrived the place was positively alive with children. There are about 260 students, most of whom commute to the school, although there is room for a few boarders in their bamboo village across the river. 20% are Balinese, they’re working hard to increase that number. Parents hung out at the coffee shop near the entrance (an entrepreneurial effort of one of the school parents who got frustrated that there wasn’t good coffee on Bali, even though they grow it here, so he remedied that and now sells to resorts, and exports it!) Some moms were picking through the veggie stand while their kids monkeyed around on the ropes course. An after school ball game had spontaneously coalesced on the green space, and our boys dove right into the fray.
Ben Macrory was our contact at the school, through a friend of a friend. He does tours of the school every afternoon and has moved tens of thousands of people through the grounds, telling the Green School story and demonstrating that idealism and education can go hand in hand. He’s an enthusiastic guy, with a light in his eyes that betrays his complete commitment to this project. He talks fast, because he has a lot to say! You can take the guy out of Manhattan, but not the Manhattan out of the guy.
Their vision for the school is a completely environmentally sustainable environment in which education encompasses the whole child and emphasis is put on how we interact with each other and the planet. it’s a beautiful idea. It’s really as education should be, in an ideal world, and it’s hard to achieve, much less maintain and move forward, but the powerhouses behind this project are proving that it can be done.
If you’re a skeptic you’re now pointing out that this is small scale, high cost, difficult to replicate, and in Bali, for heaven’s sake, where there aren’t things like building codes and OSHA rules holding them back. All true. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not possible, that it’s not working and that it’s not worthwhile. It is infinitely worthwhile for every child who can attend. It only takes one child to change the world.
If you’re interested in meeting the man with the vision behind the project, you should Google John Hardy and watch his TED Talk about the school. Traditional education didn’t work for him, so he set out to change the world, and in a not so small way, on a tiny island on the far side of the world, he’s doing it!
We’re super excited to be going back next week to talk to their high school classes about creating a passion driven life and living your own way!