Rondout could become first Lake County school to receive Conservation@Home designation

Rondout Elementary School officials hope to make the environmental grade Wednesday as the first school in Lake County to be certified under the Conservation@Home program.

Introduced a year ago, by Conserve Lake County, formerly Liberty Prairie Conservancy, the program offers free consultations and advice to encourage property owners to be better stewards of the environment.

Conserving water, using fewer chemicals and installing native plants, for example, are among a variety of measures that equate to a point total needed to gain the certification. Those who make it get an annual membership in the organization and a sign noting the achievement as modest, yet pride-inducing recognition.

“A lot of people are willing to do a lot of good things to get certified. They want that sign,” said Sarah Surroz, conservation and outreach manager for Conserve Lake County. “Getting that sign actually seems to spur people to (doing) even more good things on their property.”

The Lake County version is an offshoot of one created seven years ago by the Conservation Foundation, which has certified about 1,000 properties in Kane, Kendall, DuPage and Will counties.

Rondout, which is on Bradley Road near Lake Forest, would be the first school to be certified.

The single-school District 72 has been incorporating “ecological literacy” and sustainability in its curriculum, Superintendent Jenny Wojcik explained.

“We’re always looking for partners to work with us on these green space initiatives,” she said.

“We already had so many things in place, we decided to engage in the process officially. We’re pretty excited. It’s a way to highlight and validate the things we’ve been doing for the past several years.”

Among them are restoration programs for wooded areas near the school, which are being built into the curriculum, as well as removing invasive species and planting prairie gardens with native plants.

For the certification, the school had to document its plan to remove invasive species, for example, and create a map of where rainwater arrives and leaves. The school also has a large garden that has produced 85 pumpkins and 15 varieties of peppers this year, a turtle pond and more than a dozen chickens.

Rondout is pursuing the designation for properties of more than one acre, which is more difficult especially for schools, Surroz said, because they tend to have a lot of grass.

“We don’t use any pesticides on our grass, much to the chagrin of our local lawn care people,” Wojcik said.

Surroz, who has been working on environmental issues in Lake County since 1985, said the Conservation@Home program has received more than 430 requests for property visits. About 230 visits have been made and about 130 certifications awarded.

“I have never seen a program resonate with more people as much as this,” she said. “It’s a very tangible result for their efforts and it works.”

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