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
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
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
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
• giving each student a water bottle and phasing out paper cups
• 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
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
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 www.harker.org/thinkgreen.
For more information on Harker's green
initiatives, head to http://www.harker.org and
click “Being Green at Harker” under the “News &
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.
THE GREENING OF HARKER