The Greening of Harker

Catherine Snider/Office of Communication, Performing Arts/Harker

S ustainable site development? Check. Water savings? Check. Energy

efficiency and materials selection? Check and check. How about indoor

environmental quality? Also check. With attention paid to these criteria

established by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)

guidelines, plus an extra push by Harker students, Nichols Hall earned its gold

LEED certification in July 2009.

Originally designed for silver certification, the building was put over the top by

the initiative of students in Jeff Sutton's AP Environmental Science classes. Eight

groups of students designed displays for each of the eight LEED categories, and

the two additional LEED points for displays and the education of visitors put the

building in the gold category.

Not only is Harker the first school in Santa Clara County to earn gold LEED

certification, but the building was named a runner-up at the 2009 Structures

Awards held by the Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal, making it one of only

two finalists in the Green Project of the Year – Private category.

“[Sustainability on campus] instills a sense of stewardship in the students who

are going to inherit this planet,” said Mike Bassoni, facility manager, when asked

about Harker's green commitment. “We're hoping to instill a sense of preservation

in our students, so we practice what we preach and teach these kids firsthand

what it means to be sustainable, and hopefully that will carry … throughout their

lives ….”

Nichols Hall is only the latest in a long history of greening

efforts at Harker. In the late 1980s, Howard and

Diana Nichols (former president and head of

school, respectively) had an electric car built,

which Diana Nichols' environmental science

classes studied and rode in. “We were told

that we wouldn't get enough charge from

the sun to use it for mileage….

By Catherine Snider

They were wrong. We drove it to school every day for

about three or four years,” said Nichols. She said they

got about 12 miles a day on sunshine, the car went 65-

70 mph , was silent and required no maintenance except

battery water. Nichols, who directed Harker's efforts at the

City of San Jose 's Earth Day Celebration in the early 1990s,

displayed the car at several functions and was eager to

disseminate the idea of solar energy for cars.

Diana Nichols' green efforts also led to the initiation of

the Our Trees Project, the goal of which “was to have

students from different parts of the world work on the same

problems,” said Nichols. Nichols wrote the program with

then-technology director Sharon Meyers and brought in

five public schools and the Tamagawa Gakuen school in

Japan , Harker's sister school to this day. In time the project

involved just Harker and Tamagawa until 2002, when the

Neerja Modi School in Jaipur , India , joined in. “We wanted

to model a new kind of education using the Internet to

connect people in different locations and socioeconomic

brackets …. We wanted to … increase our students'

understanding of environmental problems and empower

them to face those problems,” Nichols said of the initiative.

Today the Our Trees Project is going strong, taught as part

of the Gr. 6 environmental science and computer science


Bassoni was well aware of Harker's green history when

Nichols Hall was begun. “Harker has had a strong support

of environmental awareness and green thinking, so from

day one … it was always our intent to design a building

that supported our philosophy and had the potential to be

LEED-certified,” he said.

Current students have joined the movement as well, and

the school has accomplished phenomenal feats with its

young activists leading the way.

Inspired by a visit from photographer/environmentalist

Rick Smolan, middle school students formed Blue Planet

Group to raise money for clean drinking water awareness.

Population Studies and computer science classes have

woven the cause into their curricula. The students' efforts

reached the ears of the nonprofit organization charity:

water, whose founder, Scott Harrison, came to Harker to

thank the students personally. In November of this year the

upper school raised $10,000 for charity: water to build two

wells in African villages with no clean water source.

Olivia Zhu, Gr. 11, was one of four students selected by

UNICEF USA to participate in the first-ever Children's Climate

Forum, held together with the United Nations Framework

Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen , Denmark ,

in early December. Zhu's application emphasized incentivizing

investment in sustainable energies such as solar, wind and

geothermal power, and modernizing electricity grids worldwide. “It's

important to get as much information about climate change policy

out there as possible, as it has a major impact now and will have an

even bigger one on future generations,” said Zhu.

Priya Bhikha, Gr. 12, and a team of upper school students are

preparing a segment for Harker's 2010 fashion show, with clothes

made out of recycled materials. Bhikha has put out a call to all three

campuses to help supply her with plastic bags, soda can tabs, paper

clips, coffee filters, CDs, drinking straws and more to make her

recycled fashions.

Shreya Indukuri and Daniela Lapidous, both Gr. 10, took it upon

themselves to apply for a grant to improve Harker's energy efficiency.

The girls, with the help of Valence Energy, successfully earned

a $5,500 environmental grant, allowing Valance to install smart

meters, devices for monitoring energy use, at the lower school

campus. They also hope to apply some of the grant money towards

an organic garden and window-insulating film at the upper school,

and plans are underway to install smart meters at that campus,

as well. This fall the pair attended the Governors' Global Climate

Summit in Los Angeles as two of 25 climate youth leaders; they

presented their findings to the assembly and enjoyed an audience

with Gov. Schwarzenegger. UNICEF picked up on the girls' story from

there, and sent a camera crew from New York in October to interview

them for a documentary on youth activism.

“If we don't do anything about [global warming] now, we'll really

regret it in the future and history will label us as the generation who

sat back and watched the world go up in flames. People will either

be part of the problem or part of the solution, and it will take an

extremely grueling period of effort by a lot of people to come up with

even a fraction of a solution, but every contribution counts. We know

the work is hard, and it does seem rather intimidating, but we're just

taking it one baby step at a time,” said Lapidous.

A gold, green building? Students ready to effect change? A strong

history of environmental awareness that will continue long into the

future? Check.

Nichols Hall's Green Features

• Atrium display shows real-time Nichols Hall energy usage.

• Over 80% of steel content used is recycled.

The upper school Biology Club, Key Club, Global

Empowerment and Outreach Club (GEO ) and Harker

Environmental and Animal Rights Team (HEART) have:

• placed stickers on towel dispensers in bathrooms at all three

campuses asking users to use sparingly;

• grown an organic garden on campus which has already been

served up for lunch by the upper school kitchen staff;

• invited a speaker from Alliance for Climate Education, which

specializes in engaging high school students to become active

in stopping climate change, to address the campus;

• checked tire pressures on campus and corrected them to

suggested PSIs, offsetting an estimated 3,232.83 kg of carbon

entering the atmosphere – equivalent to having planted

147 trees. This action earned HEART a Certificate of Special

Congressional Recognition on May 18, 2009 , as winners of Rep.

Mike Honda's Go Green Contest. The same group won the award

for technological innovation for their presentation at Santa Clara

University's Sustainability Decathlon on May 9, 2009 .

• named charity: water GEO's partner organization for the year,

inviting speakers to address the campus on the need for clean

drinking water throughout the world.

The middle school is decreasing its carbon footprint by:

• recycling used cell phones to send to troops abroad;

• printing assignments only when necessary and opting for

online copies;

• giving each student a water bottle and phasing out paper cups

on campus.

• using grant money from the National Science Foundation. Pairs

of students are choosing, researching and growing one edible

annual in a 4x4 organic plot and harvesting the resulting

plants for a San Jose soup kitchen. Additional compost comes

from Harker lunch waste.

• collecting all unclaimed papers from faculty printers for one

month, drawing attention to the amount of paper used and

immediately recycled.

The lower school:

• planted 200 daffodil bulbs to support Keep San Jose Beautiful


• installed smart meters, with the initiative of two upper school

students (See The Greening of Harker, page 8.)

Student-Led Schoolwide Green Efforts

Links :

You can check in on a real-time use of solar

energy at Nichols Hall! Go to http://www.harker.


The San Jose Business Journal published a cover

story on Nichols Hall during the construction

process which highlights its green features.

Go to

For more information on Harker's green

initiatives, head to and

click “Being Green at Harker” under the “News &

Events” heading.

Daniela Lapidous, second from left, and Shreya Indukuri, second from right, presented their

project to Governor Schwarzenegger at the Governors' Global Climate Summit in Los Angeles .

Middle school students grow edible annuals in an organic plot to donate to a San

Jose soup kitchen.