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.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

ESD in Curricular Documentation

Last month's visit by the Eco Schools committee allowed us a chance to look into what we do and how we do it. Among the many pieces of evidence we needed to provide to them was a listing of curricular connections to the Eco Schools theme of Nature & Biodiversity. In doing so we were able to delve into the documentation of our Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) process. What we found was the delightful realization that a whole lot is being done, but there is, of course more to do. Isn't that always the case?

As you might expect, curriculum planning is a dynamic process that goes on indefinitely - not unlike becoming sustainable. ISKL uses a software package called Atlas Rubicon for the documentation of unit plans, learning outcomes, knowledge and skills, and the like. It's often a somewhat tedious process for teachers, but necessary to our curricular planning. It provides new teachers with already existing documentation so as to minimize any ripples from the change over in teaching staff that happens regularly at an international school like ISKL. It is also a great place for collaboration to be documented as well, and that's where the ESD standards and benchmarks come in. 

Over the years our documentation of ESD standards and benchmarks has increased dramatically. This year alone our curriculum documentation revealed that ESD is infused into teaching and assessments a total of 232 times (ES: 108; MS:.97; HS: 27). In truth there are probably many more instances where ESD comes up but it is not reflected explicitly in the documentation because the focus of the topic is on something else. Take, for example, a book that is covered with a heavy environmental theme. The book's content might be perfect for ESD infusion, but the reason it is being read is the writing style, so that ESD documentation will not be present.

Still it is s positive sign that ESD is so present. As I have noted on many occasions it is important for students to recognize the real life implications for what they are learning. There is arguably no more pressing an issue that our students will face as they grow up as the need for sustainable choices. To get there they need to be exposed to knowledge, skills, appreciation for and an empowerment to make changes for a better future. 

The process of ESD documentation in our curriculum will continue into the foreseeable future as we continue to collaborate in unit plans with the recognition that ESD has many curricular connections. Still, the fact that so many teachers are taking the time to document ESD is probably a great indicator that it is alive and well our our classrooms! Hats off to our teachers for doing their part in making the world a better place!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Eco Schools Green Flag or Not, We’re On a Great Journey.

It was 1:30 pm on Wednesday, April 30, 2013. The girls – Deanna Anuar, Alysha Alizan and Diksha Srishyla – looked tired and relieved the Green Flag Award presentation was finally “over”. The people they left behind in the conference room – the Eco Schools Green Flag award committee members – were still deliberating.  Alysha's deep sigh said it all. A year’s worth of work, compiled into a two-hour presentation and tour of our Ampang campus culminated in just that: A sense of relief and accomplishment.

But in doing a quick de-brief with the girls I was happy to see just how positive it had been for them and how well-received they felt. How happy they seemed that the members of the committee really enjoyed – reveled in fact – in the little things that we do each day but most people hardly notice.

The tour, especially, had included several stops along the drains, the compost bins and water stations. At ISKL we often walk by these things and don’t think much of them at all. But to the visiting committee members they were pure joy!  They smiled at the water stations and lauded them as a “great idea”. They were impressed by the compost system. Likewise they walked around our water ways (can we call them that?) naming the plants and noting that the species of animals, fireflies in particular, are indicators of a healthy environment. Could it be that ISKL really is an impressive place, even in nooks and crannies where we, as a community, aren’t regularly impressed?

The girls pulled up their backpacks and put them across their shoulders. They had just a few minutes to get to their period 5 class.  The committee members said that, for a Green Flag (which, in their words, “is a big deal”) they wanted, above all, to see evidence of a culture of “green”, which they did. I was left, for a few minutes, between scuttling students and pondering committees, to write this note. Hmm? Are we, really, already there?  Probably not. But wow, how empowering to think that others, and not just any others, are impressed with what we’ve done, what we do and where we’re going.

How fantastic – really awesome – to see three young ladies maintain composure through a friendly but none-the-less grueling session. How mature in their responses! How very well they communicated their efforts and thoughts. How well they represented ISKL. How graciously they expressed their appreciation for their education here and noted the benefits of being educated for sustainable development. How realistic they seemed in both the challenges and the successes that lie ahead.

In the end, no matter what the Eco Schools committee decides, this has been a rewarding and positive year for us and the process – from deciding on action plans to making presentations – has been hugely powerful, both for our students and for the environment. In the end that is what it’s all about.