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DPS and Students Fight Climate Change

Denver Public Schools and its students are taking climate change very seriously.  In April 2022, DPS led by DPS Students for Climate Action unanimously passed their climate action policy. It tasks DPS to reduce their carbon footprint with one of the goals being to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

LeeAnn Kittle, DPS Director of Sustainability, said that climate change caused students to speak out and urge DPS to become more sustainable. 

“It’s funny you ask, are we engaging the students,” Kittle said. “I actually feel like the students engaged us, they are the ones that came forward and said, hey, we need to fight for our future. We want a climate action policy.”

According to DPS’s 2020-2021 Sustainability Annual Report, their resource management efforts has resulted in a 4.5% reduction in total utility expenditures compared to a three-year average. Now, they hope to continue to reduce their environmental impact. 

“Right now, we are developing a climate action plan that will be published in December of this year,” said Kittle. “And then, on top of that, we’re doing a financial impact assessment, to understand how much renewable energy we need to offset some of our electrification efforts.”

DPS’s climate action policy has six frameworks: the built environment, natural resource management, transportation, health and wellness, career and curriculum, and engagement and environmental justice.

The financial impact assessment was created in conjunction with the climate action policy. It is in place to help DPS identify how they will reduce their emissions to net zero.  

“The financial impact assessment is really helping us understand how we financially get there,” Kittle said. “You know, if we are going to electrify these systems, how much solar do I need to offset it?”

DPS has shifted from using mostly natural gas to using solar panels to provide power to their schools and administrative buildings. They also created their first electric school bus and charging station with grants given for their sustainable efforts.

“We have solar on site at 46 locations. Some with rooftop solar and one with ground solar,” Kittle said. “We are embarking on community solar efforts where we’re working with the city and county of Denver. They have solar canopies that they’re doing across the Denver Metro area.”

Their community solar efforts with the city of Denver gives DPS access to energy for some of their buildings at a reduced rate. Kittle said that DPS plans to continue to expand their solar efforts to many other buildings.

Transitioning to more sustainable energy practices costs money. According to Kittle it can be a challenge to maintain a budget at publicly funded institutions.  Besides the initial cost to purchase and install solar panels, the most crucial concern is maintenance. 

I think budgets are always going to be a challenge, especially right now,” Kittle said. “Everything that’s happened with the pandemic and just for our economy and supply chain. 

As a part of their engagement and environmental justice framework, DPS now has over 120 school gardens. The gardens have produced over one ton of produce for DPS schools and community food banks, while allowing students to be hands on with their sustainability efforts.

“Generally speaking, most people are wanting to do right by the planet,” says Kittle.  “We’ve been working on our career, and curriculum groups to develop more climate action type of framework around sustainability, to really focus on that action within the classroom. From a curriculum standpoint, trying to increase the conversation around climate challenges that these students will face after their time, outside of DPS.”

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