Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Holiday Wishes!

It's that time of year. Within minutes of closing the Panther News you'll be rushing into the back room to finalize the wardrobe that goes into that suitcase, slamming it shut and rushing down to the waiting taxi. Then it's off to the holiday races and to waiting family or sharing special moments in exotic destinations. But while you're enjoying your down time take a moment to teach your children about what is truly important:
  • Positive time with family is important for appropriate development and healthy balance
  • What matters most is the quality of interactions with those around you, not whether you've managed to find the newest tech item whose obsolescence is planned for six months down the road. 
  • You can share the gift of giving by giving things other than "things". Consider the gift of volunteering and help making the world a better place while spending time with your children.  
  • Try to impress on your children that every day offers a chance to make lasting positive impact on the world. Did you know that the vast majority of Melawati students want to plant a tree? Holidays are a good time to do just that, in your back yard or down the street. 
  • Children watch what we do. We all know that. This holiday season take a break from the new messages that incessantly arrive in your smart phone, look your son/daughter in the eye, share a game, a story and a smile, ask them to help you make dinner, decorate the house (with recyclable materials, of course), and share the moments we all know will one day be gone and we'll wish they weren't.
  • When new year's resolutions come around, take the time to resolve that you'll help the world in one way or another... yes, losing weight and exercising more are both very admirable, but reaching out to others - human or otherwise - is just as noble and perhaps more impacting
Then, when you return with that suitcase and a head (and camera phone) full of memories make sure that it hasn't just been a week or two that's served as a parenthesis in your life (though we all need that respite, for sure). Live simply. Love deeply. Enjoy the moments, during the holidays and beyond. All the best for a wonderful holiday season to all!  

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Making Connections with the Community

I just had the pleasure of accompanying a number of our students - Alysha Alizan and Deanna Anuar from the Green Council and Zijia Kee and Sun Woo Kim from the HS Earth Club - to the 2nd International Eco-Schools Conference. The delegation participated in a number of activities ranging from experiential game-based activities to school presentations or their initiatives and projects. Our students also had the opportunity to run two hands-on workshops for the students from other schools. The biggest benefit, though, was the interaction and networking that took place in the five short hours we were there. The level of engagement went from an expected cautionary arrival to a thrill of being around peers who share a genuine concern for the environment. 

This got me thinking about the connections that we have with the community around us. It also brought me back to a conversation with two representatives from the MPAJ. They mentioned that the them ISKL has an "invisible wall" at the limit of our campuses, seeming out of reach to the common passer by. One of the aims of the Green Council and our community service teams is to provide a corridor of interaction between two parallel worlds that benefit from each other. 

So it was with this in mind that I was perusing the latest issue of the Hornbill. It includes a number of articles that deal with global issues, diversity, community connections, service and environmental action. It is a bit of a "wow" to read through it and makes one realize just how much is being done at ISKL in terms of connections with the various communities we work with. Add that to the community service projects that are being done on a weekly basis at the HS and you have a highly engaged population. 

Data collected from our HS community service programs that our programs have, until now, added up to 1,558 hours. Though the amount of time is not as essential as the value added by the quality of service, it is none-the-less important to recognize that what works best is on-going, authentic connections with the community. Certainly time with others, particularly those outside "the expat bubble" allow our students an engaging connection to learning from those they interact with. 

Of course we would love to do more. We are planning to have workshops and/or conferences set up for Eco-School members locally. Likewise we are working on developing connections with local schools for environmental projects such as tree planting along the Klang River in Ampang and the establishment and development of a Nature Education Center - along with local NGOs and/or schools - in the Klang Valley. 

Overall we are doing very well. But our impact as a school is made greater by the collective positive interactions we have with the world around us. Experiential in its nature and authentic in its setting, community involvement is essential to the growth of our students in the formation of socially conscious global citizens. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The New Campus Comes Alive in Grade 5

It was a Friday. I was tired. Like most things the set up had been a bit of an issue and technical difficulties are always the norm, aren't they?  But come 1:15, when the fifth graders walked into their pod area, the place came alive!  They had been waiting for this for close to three weeks and the (renewable) energy - fittingly the unit topic - was palpable. The visitors?  The team directly responsible for creation our new campus. Architects. Check. Director of Operations. Check. Project managers. Check. Sustainability expert. Check. Engineers. Check.  All here to link our new facility to exceptional learning. 

The students were offered a glimpse of the plans related to sustainability in very informative and pretty snazzy posters focusing on nearly everything from daylight harvesting to grey water reuse to solar power to green spaces and traffic flow. The kids listened intently. At the midpoint the tables were turned. Visitors scampered across the way to the respective breakout rooms based on four main themes: Water for Energy, Pressure Points, Water harvesting, Solar/Wind energy. Other groups walked around in a gallery walk of posters and plans for the new campus. The wow factor was palpable and the questions coming at machine gun speed. 

In their respective classrooms the students impressed us all with their thoughts, intended to be "outside the box" practical things that we might consider as we plan the new campus in years to come. Ideas on the table? How about harnessing the energy from playground swings or using self adhesive, transparent solar panels on windows or cork floor tiles that absorb human weight and capturing kinetic energy? The kids were full of wonderful ideas and the visiting team loved them!  

As an observer of this sort of event it's difficult to not find inspiration in watching students engage in an authentic manner with practitioners in the field. Above and beyond the ideas presented and the sharing of thoughts and questions, it was equally impressive to see how fifth graders, only 11 years old, carried themselves as they made presentations to their peers and the visiting experts. Their poise and confidence were only superseded by the obvious level of deep understanding of their topic. 

When we all drifted away from the event the adults had a real "wow" look to their faces. The interaction alone had been a heart warming event, but they carried with them a bit of inspiration too for recognizing that our students might just be able to put sustainability into their daily practice, at our new campus and beyond. A subsequent email from CK Tang, the lead sustainability architect, noted "It was great fun for me to have the opportunity to interact with the kids and to learn from them. The great thing about them is that there is no boundary in their imagination and it is great, because they are thinking out of the box!" 

Wow. The future looks bright.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

ISKL's Response to Typhoon Haiyan

From rescue operations to in-kind assistance, helping those in need is a difficult task, especially when the event is of such magnitude as Typhoon Haiyan that hit the Philippines on November 8th. As of the writing of this article close to 4,000 people have lost their lives and thousands remain displaced and homeless. We can only imagine the challenges ahead for those affected.

At ISKL the event hit close to home. A number of our community members are from the Philippines and a immediate call to action is natural and necessary. The PTA's response was nearly immediate. In a quick and concerted effort to support the typhoon victims the PTA communicated with the Embassy of the Philippines and several NGOs involved in rescue and support operations. The PTA then coordinated with our Head of School, the Sustainability & Service Learning Coordinator, the HS Community Service Coordinator, the Student Councils and the Red Hats to establish quick action. Within a few days there was a plan shared with our entire community. There are currently three main ways to support the relief efforts through ISKL:
  • By making a monetary donation to the Panther Store (designated for Philippine Disaster Relief) which will be forwared to the Philippine Red Cross at the end of the month;
  • By placing non-perishable food and/or health-related items (from the list provided by the PTA) to boxes already being filled on both campuses, or
  • By sponsoring the shipment of a box by filling out the form here.
Please consider giving generously if you have not already done so, and thank you so much to those who have already helped in any way. The silver lining in a crisis like this, if there is one, is the growth in the sense of community - in this case the global community - that inevitably takes place with something of this scale. At ISKL we have shown time and time again, that we are willing to support those in need and this is no exception.  

On a related note - and highlighting the interconnectedness of our human and natural future - as the on-going discussions about the human impact on climate change continue the Philippine government is attending the Climate Change Conference in Warsaw this week, the latest country to demand global action on climate change.   It gives credence to the thought that, in addition to our concern for human life in emergency circumstances, which is completely appropriate and critically important, we must likewise move quickly and decisively with regard to our daily actions, consumption patterns and expectations of our governments, business environment, our communities and ourselves.
Thank you for all that you do, for this emergency and for our collective future. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Melawati Going Trash Free on Fridays

About a month ago I wrote about the Trash Free Fridays initiative at Prep Senior. Since then I've been approached by a number of teachers and reminded that other classes are doing it too. The Prep Reception and Prep Junior classes have been doing something along these lines for years with parents asked to consider the snacks they send along with their children. Students who have gone through our program for the past three years (when the Prep Seniors started the initiative) have experienced it as well. So as of November 15th we're piloting a Trash Free Fridays across Melawati and seeing how it goes.

This has farther reaching effects than one might suspect, however, as there is a need for total community buy-in to ensure success. Students and teachers, of course, are on the front line, but this also affects operations (most notably the cafeteria) and home prepared lunches as well. which is where parents come in. 

Here's a quick guide for parents of Melawati children:
  • Try to pack lunches that are healthy and natural 
  • Try to purchase food that is in its natural state rather than something in a package (the idea is not to take it out of its package and transfer it to a tupperware container, but to avoid packaging altogether)
  • Spend time with your son/daughter in making the food. Apart from the positive interaction it provides it's also a great opportunity to talk about nutrition and positive eating choices!
Certainly there is a new level of thinking that needs to take place regarding purchasing and preparation, particularly for those of us whose shopping bags are stuffed with single service packages. But research clearly indicates that sustainable and healthy choices are nothing but beneficial for the development of our children. Proper nutrition, healthy discussions and hands-on interaction with healthy food are all part of far-reaching nutrition education and that correlates to positive nutritional choices as children grow. If one adds the environmental benefits of less waste-to-landfill it's hard not to call it a win-win situation. 

We hope you'll join us in celebrating this through your participation, choices and conversations with your children and family. After all, we're all in this together!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Service and Sustainability in Tioman

As I write this the GAP experience is fresh in my mind and the impressions are still very strong. Last week I was fortunate to participate in the 9th grade GAP trip to Tioman, focusing on coral reef restoration.

The trip itself was an living example a whole lot of "best practices" in service learning and sustainability education as well as our school's school wide learning results (SLRs). Working with a local scuba company (Siput Scuba) and in conjunction with the University of Malaya and Reef Check Malaysia our group of 17 students were fortunate enough to explore a number of reefs, to work on scuba skills and to participating in the creation and set up of an artificial reef. 

For those who don't know (which included myself two weeks ago) setting up a reef can be a difficult talk Students constructed table looking structures of PVC piping and conducted the first "Dive for Debris" analysis in Malaysia (essentially an underwater clean up and debris identification program through PADI Project AWARE).  Once the area was declared clean enough to set up, the students had to identify coral reef "nubbings" (i.e. live pieces of coral that have fallen off the reef and might otherwise die). This in an of itself can be a challenging task. Nubbings needed to be collected in the water and placed on the structures directly so as to allow the coral a higher chance of survival. It was imperative, too, that the nubbings were alive and not covered by algae and this required training and a good deal of trial and error. 

Our 17 valiant divers fought choppy seas, strong currents, ear pressure issues as well as the lack of verbal communication opportunities under water while putting together 20 structures with a total of roughly 450 nubbings. We are hopeful, of course, that ISKL continues work in Tioman for many years to come and that future groups will add on to the success (cross fingers) of this program. On going maintenance will be necessary as well. It is not difficult to envision ISKL 'adopting' a reef and working to expand the entire reef in that area over the long term.

When leaving Tioman I was impressed by just how happy students were throughout the week. It's hard not to be happy when you're underwater and a first row seat to such a beautiful world!  But it's even more empowering to know that you've done a good deal to ensure that world thrives in Malaysia!   

This is but one story of many that GAP offers. GAP brought back with it similar stories from all sorts of places and all sorts of service. Just another example of an exceptional education. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Food for Thought

Last Friday (Sept. 27th) around 100 students and a smattering of parents and staff congregated in the gym for a new experience:  A food packaging event. It was a first of sorts for ISKL. It was the first time we all worked with this kind of program. It was the first time we all had to wear clinical hats and gloves and involved ourselves in such an industrial process (quite the assembly line, really) of packing and more packing. 

By the end of a two hour session we had packaged 20,000 meals with the support of an organization named Stop Hunger Now. Our HS GAP teams - all represented at the event - will be involved a bit further in identifying two things:  If food aid is a good idea in the areas/communities they are visiting and, if so, which organizations they might be able to assist directly with such aid. We are hoping that, in this way, we can involve them in the discussion, research and decision making regarding food support and development in areas that we visit. This deliberation, in and of itself, is a powerful opportunity to learn the benefits and drawbacks of food assistance.  

For those GAP groups that determine that this food will not be beneficial we will be working with local organizations in the area who are happy to receive such assistance. 

In addition to assisting communities locally and internationally, our hope is that this will be a small step toward giving our students opportunities to engage in service related initiatives. ISKL already boasts a wide array of service initiatives, from our HS community service to our ES Red Hats program. But in attempting to find ways to allow service to define who we are we need to recognize the power of all service, particularly if it is coordinated by students (as was the case with this event, whose executive committee comprised of 10 juniors). We are hopeful that, as we move forward through this year and those to come, we can steadily build our service ethos and allow service into our mindset and behaviors.

ISKL's vision states "to walk in a harmonious environment where care follows closely behind; learning is stimulated, curiosity is sparked, vision is cultivated and action is inspired."  To this end such authentic experiences through service can contribute a good deal to the molding of a better future.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Trash Talk at Prep Senior

I had a delightful meeting with Kim McNaughton (Prep Senior teacher) this week on the issue of moving forward with several initiatives at Melawati. Among the things that we discussed was trash. No. Our students are not misbehaving and being rude. Quite the contrary. Both students and teachers are asking about how to be part of the solution to an age old problem: trash. 

For a couple years now the Prep Senior class has had trash-free Fridays whereby the students come to school prepared to have no trash at all. It's quite the exercise in problem solving as parents busily work a bit on their baking and food preparation at home, and utilise re-usable packaging to ensure that food stays fresh and the packaging is reused. It's quite a wonderful little tradition and everyone in that microcosm of the world seems to really appreciate what it teaches the children (and adults) as well the clean and direct answer to a major global issue. 

Which begs the question... could ISKL do this on a larger scale? Could different grades do the same thing, particularly at Melawati where food preparation in more home based?  One of my own goals for this year has been to reduce the waste going to landfill at ISKL. Between our composting from home program (which involves over 80 families, 4 classes and two vendors), our bio-digester and our ongoing recycling efforts at Ampang and Melawati (where a new recycling club has been launched this week) we are hopeful that reduction will come as a natural consequence. 

But the true solution lies in reducing, not in reusing or recycling. It is in reducing what we purchase makes a dent on the global demand and, though that, the pressure on resources. It's in reducing produce with extra packaging. It's in making more from scratch so our children can eat a healthy meal while minimizing the waste at home, at school, wherever. 

This is one of those things that we hope to keep moving toward. Less waste equals less pollution. Less pollution is something we all want. At Prep Senior the kids are learning that in person. What great lessons to be teaching 5 year olds! 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Saying No to "stuff"

If you are an athlete, a parent of an athlete or have a child who is going on GAP this year you may have received the word about t-shirts. Or rather word of the lack thereof. ISKL loves its t-shirts. International Fest has one. Student Council has one. Peer helpers have theirs. They certainly serve their purpose. But it's not inconceivable to have students on several teams, clubs and organisations to purchase one for each, ensuring a wardrobe healthy with (non-organic, imported) cotton. Add to that the travel shirts and the uniforms and ISKL families are probably buying a whole lot of clothing, no?  

The HS Activities & Athletics programs have, for some years, shown their support of carbon offset programs for their flights (as seen in past articles). Now they are taking on the world of excessive t-shirts head on. Trying to minimize the pressures of excess t-shirt purchasing and use, they are asking students to buy one shirt - just one - for all teams and trips. In an email sent our on Wednesday, Rob Hutterd (Assistant HS AD) shared a video on the topic. I opened it, secretly delighted by the message. It noted in that video (which can be found at that making one t-shirt uses 2,700 liters of water. I don't know if that's accurate, but given that it's a National Geographic video I'm willing to at least accept that it might be in the ballpark. Then I got my elementary math mind to work and did some quick calculations. 

450 GAP participants. About 600 student athletes. Total: 1,050. Multiply that by 2,700 liters and you have a whopping 2,835,000 liters of water saved!  From one decision!  My sincere hope is that the water saved makes its way into the small towns and villages of Malaysia where potable water might not be as simple as turning on a faucet in Ampang or Mont Kiara. 

I am hoping that this initiative - though contentious for some - might allow us a glimpse into our own consumer choices. Maybe one day, walking in a mall, our children might say "wow, that's an awesome shirt", closely followed by "but it's not worth the environmental cost, and I already have one".  

Keep Celebrating green by learning to say "no" when it makes sense to do so. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

At Melawati Recycling Comes of Age

Just last week we held a recycling "stakeholders meeting" at Melawati, including Vicky Sethuraman (Canteen Supervisor) and Sumathy Kandiah (Assistant to the Principal), Sophia (Head Cleaner),  Indran Savasivam (Campus Supervisor), Sharil (Sam's Snacks), our external recycling partner and our new Melawati Recycling Club advisor, Jorge Arismendi. Oh, and myself, of course! 

As I took a look around the table I realized just how much cooperation it takes to get things off the ground and create a well-rounded culture of recycling at our school. The curriculum covers it in many areas (the most obvious being the 3rd grade Reduce, Reuse, Recycling unit) and our facilities offer inviting sets of bins to attract passers-by to partake and to prompt our students to get into the mind frame of "taking care of this place". But over the years we have identified a slight disconnect between our 'covering' the topic in the curriculum and asking our staff to do the brunt of the work. Apart from being a shortcoming of our program, we also felt this was an excellent opportunity for our students to engage in authentic learning through doing (some might even call it service learning).

So starting this year we are initiating a Melawati Recycling Club!  Working with Jorge Arismendi, our cleaning staff, facilities people and our external partners the Recycling Club will be primarily responsible for paper collection from the different pods and photocopy rooms. They will also participate in a number of educational sessions where they will learn about the "behind the scenes" goings on of recycling. They will have the chance (hopefully) to visit a distribution station and/or recycling factory along the way. In line with our new focus on service learning club members will also conduct awareness campaigns as they themselves become teachers for adults (staff, cleaning staff, parents, etc.) and students alike!

We are hopeful that this will become a great cooperative effort and allow us not only to proudly say that recycling is alive and well at Melawati, but also that our youngest students are leading the charge to changing the world, one piece of paper at a time! The on-going amounts of recycling will be kept - as always - on the Sustainable ISKL website for anyone to follow. 

It's a small step for ISKL. It's a big step for our students' involvement in ensuring that we are, in fact, "taking care of this place" and becoming "social responsible world citizens". Not bad!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A New Beginning - ISKL Goes Green (Flag, that is!)

This past Wednesday ISKL hosted Malaysia's first Eco-Schools Green Flag award ceremony. As the recipients of the award is it difficult not to get caught up in the elation of the moment and it's easy to mistake that feeling, and the flag itself, as the final goal. But as the co-coordinators of the Green Council Tunku Alysha Azizan ('14) and Deanna Anuar ('14) stated, really this flag is just the beginning of something bigger than us. 

Part of their speech was spent highlighting the future plans for the Green Council and our participation in Eco-Schools programming. A recurring theme was our intent to expand beyond the borders of our campus walls, to engage with our community more, with our host country in a positive and meaningful way and to use student initiative as the starting point for big things. 

Our visitors were duly impressed with our students (how could they not be?), the program, the campus and the ceremony itself. A big thank you goes out to Hilda Alposilva and the Marketing Office staff for doing such a wonderful job with organizing things, but also to the facilities crew and the theater staff for all they do so well. 

As the adrenaline slowly dies off, and we recognize that a flag does not change our direction, we hope that our participation on the Eco-Schools program will allow us to start a new, to create a blueprint for school-community interactions and mutual goals. We move on, waving our new Green Flag!

It is important to recognize the contributions of those who went before us, and whose decisions and efforts have led us to where we are today. Most notably, we would like to thank Mr. Paul Chmelik for his request of the -then - Green Team for "bold thoughts" in moving forward. We would also like to thank Mr. Angus Carmichael (my predecessor) for his vision in joining the Eco-Schools program and for setting the path for us to follow. Similarly, a big thank you also goes out to our previous Environmental Officers who played pivotal roles in our Eco-Schools initiatives and programming: Nathaniel Zacharias ('12) and Samantha Lee ('13). To those few, and the countless others who added their parts, thank you!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Starting Off the Year with a Big "Green" Bang!

Hello to one and all!  It's been a long, silent summer from the Sustainability and Service Learning office and it's time to get that rust off our keyboards and jump on that ever-fast-paced treadmill called working at ISKL and get the year off to a great start! 

And a great start it is!  As many of you know, ISKL was informed last May that it will become the very first Eco-Schools Green Flag recipient in Malaysia!  Now the stage is all set for that very recognition. The Eco-Schools Green Flag award ceremony will take place during a special HS Assembly on August 21st at 11:40 am. It will be awarded by the CEO of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in Malaysia and we expect to have a representative of the Malaysian Ministry of Education present as well as our administration headed by our new - and very supportive - director Dr. Norma Hudson and our Green Council members. What a better way to start the year with a bang, and what better a recognition for the efforts of our Green Council and, more generally, the entire community!  

As a short but ongoing aside, and particularly for those who are new to ISKL, I'd like to share the online sources of information that you can use for updates on our sustainability and service learning programming:
On a related, but perhaps less historically important note, Community Recycling and our composting-from-home program are starting up this weekend as well. I invite each and every family to consider participating. Just let me know if you're interested!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Reflections on 2012-13

June 2013 marks the end of the third year for the position of Sustainability & Service Learning Coordinator. Looking back, this has been a year of much work and evidence of great success, but there remains much to be done. Overall, the year was action-packed with sustainable and service learning projects, educational experiences and growth. 

On the positive side, 2012-13 has a number of key points to celebrate:
  • The recognition of our sustainability and "green" efforts by the Eco-Schools program, who have identified us as the first "Green Flag" school in Malaysia. The award will be presented in August, 2013, nearly one year ahead of our originally targeted goal!
  • The CIS/WASC note that sustainability education is well infused into the curriculum
  • The introduction of color-coded destinations for the HS GAP program
  • The introduction of the Plus (+) program for Malaysia Week sites
  • The creation of new after-school programs (for next year) including an ES Recycling Club and a MS Roots & Shoots club
  • Lots and lots of visits to classrooms to discuss sustainability and promote service-related learning
  • The construction of the bio-digester at Melawati
  • Solid moves forward in the Technology department to reduce server energy use
  • Reduction of Ampang water use by over 40% year on year through infrastructure upgrades
  • Introduction of our newly developed (and still in draft form) "sustainable procurement guidelines"
  • Introduction of "Best Practices for School flights" to be utilized in the upcoming year
  • The goal of "Platinum" standard for our new school campus and extensive conversations with architects, engineers, etc. about the best manner by which to achieve a high level of efficiency with maximum natural spaces
  • The generation of a blueprint for service learning structure
  • Introduction of new "Non-Recyclable" bins to complete the already existing bin sets, augmenting recycling efforts
  • Reduction of carbon from air travel by over 20% from the previous year
On the continued "to do" list are issues related to:
  • Systematic use of administrative structures (Leadership Councils) and student-based organizations (e.g. Green Council) to support each other in defining and moving forward in terms of ESD in the out of the classroom.
  • The continued need to infuse ESD into the curricular documentation of the MS and HS offerings
  • Systemic re-organization of our waste system to minimize landfill waste and maximize recycling, composting and appropriate disposal of chemical and toxic waste
  • Infusing service learning across the school in a pre-defined systematic manner
  • Continue efforts to reduce energy, water and air miles
  • Continue assisting in the design and building of a new sustainable campus
The thing with sustainability is that the job is never quite done. As soon as we work something out, there is always something else to focus on. And so I suspect it will continue to be. We move onward. We move forward.

Enjoy the summer break and I look forward to a rewarding 2013-14!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

ISKL: Malaysia's First Green Flag School!

After several year's worth of efforts, with the guidance of Mr. Carmichael (and now myself) and the leadership, over the years, of Nathaniel Zacharia ('12), Samantha Lee ('13)  Alysha Alizan ('14), Deanna Annuar ('14) and Diksha Srishyla ('14) but with valuable support of the Green Council members, community members, teachers, staff, parents, students - all of us - we have achieved a first for Malaysia, the Eco-Schools Green Flag!

This feat stands as the recognition that ISKL is well in it's way toward giving its students the necessary tools - knowledge, skills, empowerment and stewardship - to put "green" in everyday decisions. I am so very proud of all the students for leading the way with initiatives, action plans and a willingness to learn teachers who have done such a wonderful job of putting ESD into their curriculum, parents working on manners to create sustainable events, staff supporting sustainable changes, and administration working to establish best practices. I have always said that it takes a village and this award is the result of the fruitful efforts of all of us. 

In some ways this is just the beginning of putting ISKL "on the map" however. With the Green Flag comes great responsibility as well. We are, from here on forward, a beacon for sustainable education for those around us. It is a secret wish we've had for a while, and though a recognition such as this only validates what we've been doing, it gives us the impetus to become a leader throughout the country and region, to collaborate with schools and to spread the word outside our walls as well as within.

A big big thank you to Eco-Schools for providing us with this award (which will be formally given to us in a ceremony at the beginning of next school year), to the members of visiting delegation, to all of us who, in little steps, have come a long way!  Congratulations to the Green Council and to ISKL on being the first Green Flag school in Malaysia!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Carbon Offsetting 101 @ ISKL

For years now I’ve taxed myself with carbon offsetting for our family’s flights. Perhaps what has drawn me to offsets is the fact that I can do some good – indirectly – even when my travel choices are suspect. Take my last trip to Bangkok, for example. The carbon emissions from the flights alone would be more than I could ever save while I was there, even if I chose to live on the street, eat locally produced vegetarian food and walk everywhere. It’s hard to overstate the environmental costs of flying, and at ISKL we do lots of it.

Fortunately, our two biggest programs (by flying kilometers) – HS Athletics and the GAP program – have also established great track records of offsetting their trips. Flights taken on GAP trips, for example, are offset through an organization called Climate Care ( Essentially carbon offsets provide funding for low-carbon alternatives. Though not ideal it’s a logical start considering we can’t plant the thousands of trees it would take to compensate for ISKL’s aggregate flight mileage. The costs are reasonable too, as offsets vary from just a few Ringgit equivalent (roughly RM 10 for a round trip ticket to Bangkok) to approximately RM 200 for an around-the-world ticket.

Carbon offsetting organizations provide simple calculators to determine the distances, carbon emissions and/or costs to compensate for trips. Carbon offsetting is not limited to flights either as such organizations often provide the same service for business operations or home use. If not, you can always just donate money to tree planting organizations such as the Nature Conservancy ( or Plant a Tree Foundation (  Ideally, of course, you can always head out and plant a few trees yourself and let your children learn hands-on!

Offsets should never replace unnecessary travel, but where it is deemed to be appropriate the least we can do is help to provide opportunities to those who are “in the know” with regards to carbon offsetting and positive change. Especially with summer travel around the corner such an initiative would be a excellent consideration.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Recycling Cities, Saving Energy: A Peek Into Grade 2

If you ever want to feel like a superstar, walk into Karin Martin’s grade 1 class. Mine was a special visit to see and talk about “Recycle City”, a model Kuala Lumpur made exclusively of plastic bottles and snippets of paper. When I walked in one little boy (if only I could remember names) looked up at me and just stared as he put up his hand and pointed at me as if saying “it’s him”. I don’t think he actually knew who I was, but he was none-the-less impressed by my presence. When Ms. Martin saw me she introduced me to the class, several members of which literally jumped with joy to see me. I was tickled silly.

Then came the introduction to the city itself, complete with Petronas Towers, the Maxis building (with big clock on the side), KLIA, and the water fountain in Mont Kiara neatly nestled among the tall buildings. It was quite an impressive little city, actually, and I couldn’t help but marvel at the creativity and attention to detail. But that was just the beginning. 

In 20 minutes, which literally flew by, this is what it looked like: Questions by me. Answers by them. Explanations by me. Questions by them. Clarifications by me. Inquisitive comments by them. Smiles by Ms. Martin. Chatting. Hands up. Excitement. Discovery. Appreciation. Learning. All in one place. We talked about all sorts of things from the differences between reuse (which is so much better than recycling!) and recycling to balance between natural spaces and human needs, the nature of construction materials and the new campus (wouldn’t it be great to be built on completely recycled materials?). We talked about the airplanes and how cool they were because they take you places, but they also emit carbon. Busses too. We talked about how wonderful it was that they took the initiative to build this city and each student identified what he/she had constructed.

I was clearly talking too much (and had arrived a bit late) and the kids had to go to lunch. We took pictures and I walked out into the hallway from one room as they exited from another. As I worked my way out of the room I noticed a small girl waiting for me by the door, her finger on the switch. I asked her what she was doing. She answered with a smile “I’m the energy saver” and turned off the light. I smiled broadly and went on my way, happy as can be.  Recycled cities and energy savers. Now there are some things I never thought about when I was in first grade.