On campus, in the curriculum and in the community, Shady Side Academy is committed to becoming a more sustainable school and to teaching students to become good stewards of our environment.

On Campus

The SSA Farm

Established in 2012, the SSA Farm is an Academy-wide sustainability initiative that provides hands-on, experiential learning opportunities for students and allows them to see their food go from seed to plate. More than 600 pounds of organic produce is harvested annually from the farm plots on all four campuses and used in our dining halls or sold at the weekly Fox Chapel Farmers Market we host on our Senior School campus from June through October.

Food Services

SSA Farm-fresh strawberries on the salad barOur food service partner, Metz Culinary Management, is dedicated to using fresh, nutritious, locally sourced foods, including produce from the SSA Farm and meat and dairy products from the PA Preferred program. We work to reduce waste through a comprehensive recycling and composting program, teaching students to use color-coded bins for recycling, compost and landfill. While strategic menu planning helps to minimize food waste, our partnership with 412 Food Rescue ensures that any excess food helps to fight hunger in our community. We also have reduced plastic bottle usage by encouraging the use of reusable water bottles and the installation of water refilling stations on each campus. In 2019, the SSA Middle School cafeteria earned the Sustainable Pittsburgh Restaurant Gold designation.

Facilities & Grounds

McIlroy Center for Science and innovationLEED Certified Buildings
SSA's Senior School campus include two buildings that have achieved LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. The McIlroy Center for Science and Innovation, which opened in 2018, incorporates numerous sustainable features that reduce environmental impact while creating teaching opportunities, such as rooftop solar panels that supply electricity to the grid, a rain garden that collects storm runoff, motion-sensitive lighting, water-saving plumbing, automatic controls and high-efficiency windows. In addition, Rowe Hall, built nearly a century ago, became the first high school building in Pennsylvania to earn LEED Gold certification in 2006 after a $6.8 million environmentally responsible renovation.

Energy-Efficient Upgrades
Over the past decade, a major effort has been underway to make Shady Side's beautiful and historic buildings more energy-efficient. Leaky old windows and doors have been replaced, motion-sensitive LED lighting and water-saving plumbing have been installed, and HVAC systems have been upgraded to more energy-efficient models. These upgrades not only reduce the Academy's carbon footprint, but also result in significant energy cost savings.

In the Curriculum

Sustainability is fully integrated into the PK-12 curriculum, from the interdisciplinary SSA Farm curriculum to environmental science classes, clubs, projects and more.

Country Day School

  • PK students plant kale seedlings at the Senior School Farm.PK students learn about plant life cycles by growing kale from seed in the classroom. In the spring, they visit the Senior School farm to transplant seedlings and make kale smoothies.
  • In science, students learn about animal life cycles by hatching chickens in the classroom.
  • All students have the opportunity to tend the U-shaped garden bed, which is filled with aromatic herbs and cherry tomatoes.

Junior School

  • PK students harvest and incorporate fresh food from the garden into weekly cooking lessons with the SSA Farm director, and learn about plant life cycles by growing kale from seed. In the spring, they visit the Senior School farm to transplant seedlings and make kale smoothies.
  • The first grade edible schoolyard curriculum includes planting beans from seed, observing and drawing different growing stages, dissecting seeds, and creating radish seed necklaces.
  • All students have the opportunity to help tend the five raised garden beds and to care for our schoolyard egg-laying hens.

Middle School

  • Sixth grade creek water testingSixth graders explore the environmental impacts of gas drilling and windmills in the interdisciplinary Energy Quest project and do water quality testing on campus streams with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.
  • Seventh graders study the role pollinators play in our food system by tending to our pollinator garden and planting native plants that attract butterflies.
  • In the eighth grade Environmental Science course, student learn about human interaction with the environment, the biosphere, ecosystems, pollution and energy usage.
  • Students can help to tend the campus garden by joining the fall Harvest Committee or choosing Farm as their spring athletics option. They also may join the Chicken Committee to care for our schoolyard egg-laying hens.
  • Each year on Global Action Day, the entire school devotes a full day to hands-on learning around global sustainability topics, including water scarcity, air quality and food insecurity.
  • A student Recycling Club leads recycling efforts on campus.

Senior School

  • An interdisciplinary Environmental Science course examines the earth as a single interconnected system, human impacts on natural systems, the cultural and social implications of environmental problems, industrial agriculture and more sustainable alternatives, and food insecurity and nutrition assistance programs.
  • In the sophomore health class nutrition unit, students learn about nutrient density and where their food comes from.
  • Students may choose PE Farm as their fall or spring athletics option to spend afternoons working on the campus farm, planting, weeding, watering, maintaining and harvesting produce.
  • In the summer, students can apply to work as SSA Farm interns or student managers of the Fox Chapel Farmers Market.
  • The student-led Environmental Club leads a variety of sustainable activities and initiatives on campus, including recycling initiatives and education, the annual Green Cup Challenge to reduce energy usage on campus, and more.


In the Community

Green & Healthy Schools Academy

Green & Healthy Schools Academy logoSSA administrators and faculty have participated in the School Sustainability Culture Program of the Green Building Alliance's Green & Healthy Schools Academy, a two-year, hands-on, immersive learning community that assists schools with the integration of sustainability into their buildings, curriculum and culture. Through the program, a new vision for sustainability at SSA was crafted with the following goals:

  • Conceptualize and implement a campus landscape restoration project that represents native ecological systems of the Pittsburgh region and our commitment to sustainability.
  • Continue sustainability-focused improvement projects on our existing and new buildings, and connecting green spaces.
  • Develop strong programmatic curricular connections to our campus restoration and building renovation projects.
  • Establish a cohesive awareness and language about our school sustainability.

Healthy Schools PA Recognition Program

Healthy Schools PA logoShady Side Academy has twice been a recipient of the Healthy Schools PA Recognition Award for our commitment to yearlong maintenance and improvement plans at each of our campuses. Each year, the Senior School Environmental Club works with our Facilities Department and the SSA Farm director to complete a checklist of practices and goals to decrease our ecological footprint.

Western Pennsylvania Conservancy Partnership

Western PA Conservancy logoShady Side Academy has collaborated with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (WPC) to improve the ecology of our campuses. In this process, the WPC developed two major assessment reports that outline our tree species diversity and our ecosystem and native plant diversity. WPC also provided educational support to our Senior School Environmental Club and the natural science courses at each campus.