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Aiken Elementary School Mavericks Celebrate Five Years of ‘Green Step’ Success

Five years ago, when Aiken Elementary School (AES) kindergarten teacher Dr. Angela Clifford first learned about a statewide conservation challenge called the Green Step School Program, she felt it could really blossom at her school. During the 2021-22 school year her vision was confirmed yet again as AES was selected as Restore School of the Year following the completion of exemplary outdoor classroom habitat, gardening, and composting restoration projects. 

The school began the extensive work toward becoming a certified South Carolina Green Steps School in 2017 and completed its certification in 2019. According to the Environmental Education Association of South Carolina (EEASC), Keep the Midlands Beautiful, Sonoco Recycling, and the S.C. DHEC’s Office of Solid Waste Reduction and Recycling established Green Step Schools in 2003 as part of South Carolina’s “Resource Conservation Challenge.” The South Carolina Green Step School initiative encourages K-12 schools to establish and maintain model quality sustainability projects. Schools qualify for awards when they work with qualified mentors and submit videos or pictures showing their students learning, doing, and teaching others about their projects.

“I am very proud of the progress and success we have had as a Green Steps School,” stated Aiken Elementary School Principal Cindy Hewitt. “With the direction of Angela Clifford and her team, we have restored our outdoor classroom and provided many learning opportunities for our students outside the classroom. We have also developed strong relationships with community members and will continue to network and grow in this area. We hope to see other schools join the Green Steps Initiative along with us.”

Clifford says the school began in 2017 with a small number of projects, a few involved staff members, and a single mentor.

“We continued to plan and implement projects with a growing number of staff members, mentors, and committed students and became officially certified in 2019,” commented Clifford. “Our school and surrounding community has continued their involvement in our projects each year through spirit weeks, school-wide projects, grants, donations and events which culminated in our school being presented with the superlative award of Restore School of the Year.”

Clifford adds that the school could not have achieved its certification or exhibited such tremendous growth over the years without the support of many AES mentors and community partners who have assisted with projects such as Dig in the Dirt Days while also providing ongoing encouragement, guidance, and much-needed project materials. 

“We are eternally grateful for their investment in our students, school, and culture of learning,” added Dr. Clifford. “Their collaboration continues to provide meaningful learning opportunities, examples of advocacy and action, and joy to our everyday work at Aiken Elementary.”

Current and former supporters include the following organizations and individuals:

Sonya Terry (Aiken Soil and Water); Kelly Schepens (Ruth Patrick Science Education Center); Holly DeVault (Savannah River Ecology Lab); Elizabeth Burgess and Jeremy Rogers (Outdoor Classroom Volunteers); Jane Hiller (S.C. Green Steps Schools Coordinator); AES Green Steps Committee (Angela Clifford, Mistie Osborne, Traci Nelson, Patsy Sheldon, Amanda Fulmer, Marie Murray, Trevor Rachels, Michael Rosenthal, and Elizabeth Burgess); Aiken Elementary School PTO; Beth Eberhard (Savannah River Ecology Lab); The Country Gardeners Gardening Club; Lauren Alston (Aiken Storm Water); South Carolina Native Plant Society (Midlands Chapter); Aiken Screen-Printing; Lowe’s and Home Depot.

For more information on Aiken Elementary School’s Green Step School Program, please visit the program’s web page located at For information on how you can support the program, or how your school can begin its own Green Step School journey, please email Dr. Angela Clifford at



ACPSD Communications Department