Deborah Rogers Curtis, Green Schools Coordinator, Missouri Gateway Green Building Council, joining MGGBC staff on December 11, 2023
Description of your work in green building: I am the new Green Schools Coordinator for the Missouri Gateway Green Building Council, starting on December 11, 2023. For the past thirteen years, I have worked in St. Louis Public Schools, most recently as the Principal of Patrick Henry Elementary. I led our school community to transform our 115-year old building and grounds into a mecca of sustainability and wellness for our students, staff, and neighborhood. We were recognized as one of America’s Healthiest Schools by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a Missouri Green School, and a US Department of Education Green Ribbon School. The process of changing hearts, minds, and physical structures taught me so much about the green school movement. I am thrilled to continue this work across many schools and districts as the Green Schools Coordinator.
Sustainability passion: When I was a classroom teacher, I took my students on a field trip for a day of service in Forest Park. The staff there taught my students how to plant new trees in Kennedy Forest, and they also taught all of us why this project mattered to the health of the park and the entire St. Louis environment. My students were so proud of the work they accomplished in just one day. One eighth grader told me he had never been to Forest Park before that day, but he was so glad that his first visit helped the park grow and get even better. It was a simple but eloquent way to summarize what sustainability does: it allows us to leave a place better than we found it in order to keep it going for generations to come. I loved learning along with my students over the years of sustainability projects we took on, and I cannot wait to support as many schools as possible across Missouri in my new role.
Most meaningful experience with MGGBC Chapter: I was lucky enough to work alongside Hope Gribble and Lesli Moylan, both of whom were integral in supporting my former school’s work to become healthier and more sustainable. They provided a wealth of knowledge, support, and humor along the way that kept us going even when we hit roadblocks. I also was (un)lucky enough to stand by Emily Andrews on the coldest Earth Day celebration ever in Forest Park earlier this year, and Emily still carried her positive attitude. I cannot wait to meet the rest of the MGGBC Chapter and learn from the expertise of the group!
What will most impact the future of green building: Plain and simple: education. I was shocked to learn that even the smallest changes to existing structures can make an impact on our environment, and it made sustainability feel more realistic and attainable. It changed my mindset about what was possible within my lifetime, rather than believing we are generations away from real sustainability. I also strongly believe in the power of children, and even more so in the power of children to harness their education and creativity for the betterment of our world. When students and whole school communities are educated on sustainability and healthy living, they become a new force for green practices.
Favorite LEED or sustainability project: I am quite biased, but I have to say my former school, Patrick Henry Elementary in St. Louis Public Schools. Despite its enormous size, its age, and its lack of resources, Patrick Henry is a beautiful display of green practices. The building was designed by famed local architect, William B. Ittner, and its design has stood the test of time. The building has been aesthetically preserved, but many of the inner workings have been replaced with modern and eco-friendly equipment that is not only better for the environment, but also healthier for the students and staff. The student-led and fully sustainable garden remains the only source of fresh fruits and vegetables in the otherwise food desert of 63106, and it serves as a true community garden, open to the entire neighborhood. The projects undertaken by the students and staff have led to an incredible increase in movement minutes per day (and a subsequent decrease in discipline incidents), higher rates of attendance, increased reading scores, increased parent involvement, and over 100 community partnerships with nonprofits, corporations, and volunteers.
Favorite places in the St. Louis region or Missouri Gateway GBC territory: My favorite outdoor space is Forest Park – I love it so much I got engaged and married there! I love to be outside as much as possible, hiking the trails of Castlewood, weaving through the blocks of my University City neighborhood, or hanging on the deck with my giant dog, Hank. My favorite indoor space is Central Public Library because it is a shock at every turn and the building itself teaches me something new every time I am there. And my favorite indoor/outdoor space is City Museum because it is one of the weirdest places on earth, and fun for people of all ages to climb to an airplane in the sky, slide down ten stories in a spiral slide, or explore an indoor treehouse labyrinth.