When Westchester Day School in Mamaroneck launched the installation of solar panels in January, there was more to the initiative than becoming energy efficient and saving money.
“From a Jewish perspective, greening is a Jewish attitude about protecting the environment,” said Rabbi Joshua Lookstein, head of school.
Of course there’s no denying the financial and practical benefits that it will accrue. During the 13-year life of the contract, WDS expects to save between $500,000 and $1 million from the panels, which will provide about 30 percent of the school’s energy needs. There will ultimately be 532 solar panels on the roof and the school expects to be able to turn on solar-generated electricity by the end of March.
But besides the solar panels, the school is also replacing environmentally unfriendly plates and utensils, like Styrofoam, with more sustainable materials, like compostable and recycled cups, plates and bowls. Other efforts include reducing the amount of paper that’s used, a task made easier now that the middle school has embraced a 1:1 Chromebook initiative for students.
The project was suggested by alumnus and parent David Bieber, said Josh Trump, president of the school’s board of trustees (who has no relation to the Republican presidential candidate). “There’s no upfront cost,” said Trump. The school’s roof already needed major work, so the timing was good to switch to solar. Plus, said Trump, “The moral, educational and financial pieces came together.”
Rabbi Lookstein explained: “We are building a curriculum to highlight and explain environmentalism from a scientific and Jewish perspective,” he said, adding that the faculty is “looking for ways to integrate environmentalism into the curriculum.”
Integration comes most naturally around Tu b’Shvat, “with a focus on trees and not wasting,” he said, noting that “there is a Talmudic injunction about not producing waste.”
Westchester Day School will also begin school-wide composting, expanding classroom efforts by two teachers; one in kindergarten, the other in science.
Some of the lessons will be connected to the week’s Torah portion.
For example, when fourth graders study the portion about Joshua and the Jewish people entering the land of Israel, the teachers will discuss how they settled the land of Israel, from irrigating the land, conserving water, tending to crops and trees and developing a habitat congenial to humans and animals.
“We want to sensitize our students to the value, dignity and importance of what they perceive as inanimate objects, and about the importance of nature, ” said Rabbi Lookstein.
Students will also learn about pollution and global warming, work in the school’s community garden and explore forms of renewable and alternative energy. History classes will explore the impact of settlement on the local environment and on native species.
“We view this as part of, not apart from, our school,” said Rabbi Lookstein. Unlike more urban schools, Westchester Day School is built on 26 acres of land on the Long Island Sound. “One of the most fascinating realities of our school is that we are physically more a part of nature than any other day school,” he said. “Our goal is to always make the campus part of the experience from an educational perspective.”