Garret K. Woodward: Young Minds, Big Ideas

Small Minds, Big Ideas: Isaac Dickson Elementary Goes Green

By Garret K. Woodward

It’s taken the better part of five years, but Isaac Dickson Elementary School Principal Brad Johnson is beginning to see the light at the end of tunnel.

“Currently, [we’ve completed] our first year at the new site. Overall, the process took about five years from the planning, to the demolition, to construction, and delays to our current reality inhabiting the school for a year,” Johnson said in the summer of 2017. “We had teachers and students involved in every step of the way in the designing the new building. Each wing is different based upon the different needs of the students. We’ve been on our new campus for a full year now and are looking forward to the start of a new [school] year.”

Johnson sees not only a new chapter for the school, but also new opportunities moving ahead, especially in the realm of green initiatives that are continually being added into the long-term design of the property, and also, most importantly, the curriculum.

“We’re harvesting all the rainwater that falls on the hard surfaces, [and] we use that water to irrigate the landscape and flush toilets in our bathrooms. Daylighting is used extensively throughout our school. Research tells us that students perform better and are better able to pay attention with natural lighting,” Johnson said. “Geothermal wells are also utilized to decrease fossil fuel energy consumption. Our school is [also] pre-wired for photovoltaic panels. There’s a current effort underway (through Appalachian Offsets) to close a funding gap, which would provide our school with about an acre of PV which would make our school a net-zero school.”

At the core of what Isaac Dickson is trying to accomplish is providing their students with a lifelong well of academic knowledge that goes far beyond the usual classroom subjects, where a passion for agriculture and sustainable practices is learned early on, only to transition into a love for the outdoors that ensures an appreciation for Mother Nature.

“The ultimate vision is to have students continue to learn to become responsible stewards of our environment,” Johnson said. “Our kids are immersed in an experiential education at Isaac Dickson each day, and by having our gardens, nature trail, chickens, greenhouse, and learning to care for our community and environment. We’re preparing kids for their future.”

Atop the priceless learning experiences for the kids, Johnson also sees the interactions and lessons as something of a two-way street between the pupils and their teachers, where both sides are coming away from their time together with a better understanding of each other, and the natural world in general.

“For me, this has been an incredible experience. Our teachers and students were able to have a true voice in the design of the building so that it best met the needs of the children and staff,” Johnson said. “Combined with that, we were able to construct a school that is outfitted with green technologies. Our students, staff, and parents have been incredibly supportive and involved in our school both before our new building and after.”

Isaac Dickson also looks at itself as a template for other schools, perhaps even commercial spaces, considering these implemented green features, where the information and techniques can be shared between academic institutions, and the community as a whole.

“I think people are becoming more aware of issues that affect our climate and environment,” Johnson said. “Here in Asheville, I think we have been ahead of the curve in terms of living responsibly. For many of our parents, our school and the strategies we use to save energy dovetail nicely with shared values.”

You can also view this article as it was originally published on page 34 of the 2017-18 edition of the directory.