DEQ Press Releases

Davin, Moira

SMART Schools Challenge Open for Applications

HELENA—The SMART Schools Challenge program is once again accepting project proposals for the 2020/2021 year, and this year brings some exciting new changes. 

The SMART Schools Challenge is a friendly competition to encourage Montana’s K-12 schools to integrate lessons and projects relating to resource conservation, efficiency and healthy environments. This year, schools may choose from eight different student-driven project categories (see below).

SMART Schools (which stands for “Saving Money and School Resources Today”) is administered by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. As with previous years, schools can select which challenge category to participate in.

At the end of this year’s challenge, 10 winners will be selected, and each will receive a $2,000 award. Teachers can use this money for their classrooms or project continuation. Schools that participate in the 2020-2021 SMART Schools Challenge will have the opportunity to sign up for the new bonus challenge and could potentially win an additional award.

The bonus challenge is a fun way for schools to continue the challenge by coming up with a new SMART Schools name and logo. One winner will receive $1,000 and their logo will be used as the new SMART Schools name and logo in the 2021-2022 school year. You can find more information, and the project proposal registration form at: 

Please submit project proposals by Dec. 15, 2020 to:   

Project Categories

Upcycling is converting and reusing a product into a useful product or item of value. Upcycling is not the same as recycling, which is considered “downcycling.” Main elements are:

  • May be incorporated into an art project
  • Students may assist in the production of art or classroom projects that re-purpose waste materials
  • Taking an item that is no longer in use and giving it a new life or a different function

Alternative Transportation
Alternative transportation projects focus on commuting to and from schools or field trips in other ways besides driving with the use of fossil fuels (biking, walking, carpooling, taking public transportation). Main elements are:

  • District use of Clean School Buses
  • Walking or Biking School Bus Program
  • Students help track the reduction of harmful gas emissions. This can be done in a variety of ways depending on the age of the students
  • Research alternative modes of transportation that do not burn fossil fuels

Energy Efficiency
Energy efficiency means using less energy to perform the same tasks, reducing energy waste. Energy efficiency brings a variety of benefits: reduced greenhouse gas emissions, reduced demand for energy imports and lowering costs, thus making funds available for other things (like school supplies, building maintenance, playground equipment, etc.). Main elements include:

  • Learn behavior changes that will help reduce energy consumption (turning off lights, unplugging devices, etc.)
  • Expose students to energy efficiency in the classroom using science, technology, engineering or math lesson plans
  • Provide hands-on learning in the classroom or outside the classroom with energy efficiency projects and energy reduction awareness
  • Research topics that focus on energy efficiency and eliminating energy waste

Renewable Energy
Renewable energy projects incorporate energy sources that are harvested from resources that can be replenished on a human timescale. Examples include: wind, rain, sunlight, water, and geothermal heat. Main elements are: 

  • Expose students to renewable energy in the classroom using science, technology, engineering or math lesson plans
  • Provide real-time data display to demonstrate the reduction of fossil fuels with the production of renewable energy
  • Research renewable energy sources

Indoor Air Quality 
Indoor air quality is the quality of air within the school building and building annexes. Many different factors can affect indoor air quality such as: cleaning products, damp conditions, insulation, Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC), building infrastructure, and radon. *Indoor air quality must include radon component to qualify.


  • Expose students to the effects of air quality from infrastructure and HVAC filter replacement or upgrades. This can be done using media such as daily announcements, newsletters and classroom lessons 
  • Class lesson plans expose students to indoor air quality
  • Students assist in research and testing of their school’s indoor air quality
  • Students research and test their school for Radon
  • Students research and encourage school personnel to use green cleaning products
  • Students research and encourage their schools to reduce the amount of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are released inside of the school building and annexes

Sustainable Agriculture
Sustainable agriculture is gardening or farming to meet the needs of a school or community without compromising the soil, water, air and climate, while promoting biodiversity for future generations. Main elements are:

  • Composting food waste and using compost to improve soil health
  • The use of rainwater catchment or other wastewater treatment for garden irrigation or sustainability practices
  • Schools partnering with local farms to provide students with local produce in the cafeteria (e.g., Farm-to-School program)
  • Expose students to sustainable agriculture lesson plans in the classroom and outside of the classroom
  • Research farming practices that focus more on biodiversity and less on monoculture

Industrial Processes/Public Infrastructure
Industrial infrastructure refers to systems or services that a community or country relies on to function properly. Examples of industrial infrastructure include water supplies, power plants, waste management and transportation systems (roads and railroads). Main elements include:

  • Expose students to lesson plans and/or hands-on projects that focus on industrial infrastructure
  • Students conduct a research project on one or more facets of industrial infrastructure

Living Classroom
A living classroom focuses on concepts of hands-on activities, while utilizing school gardens, aquaponic systems and ecological tools (GPS, measuring PH and temperature, species sampling, etc.) to educate students about environmental stewardship and healthy eating habits. Main elements include:

  • Provide students with garden-based education and hands-on activities
  • Expose students to aquaponic systems, and garden harvests that will be used in the cafeteria
  • Integrate hands-on botany lessons in the classroom
  • Research projects related to environmental stewardship

Important Dates

  • Project proposal registration due: Dec. 15, 2020
  • Mid- challenge progress update via Zoom: March 1-5, 2021
  • Final reports (video presentation) due: May 10, 2021
  • Winners announced: May 17, 2021
Previous Article DEQ is Seeking Public Comment on Issuing a 401 Water Quality Certification for the Keystone XL Pipeline Project
Next Article DEQ Releases Draft Environmental Assessment for a Proposed Exploration Mining Project in Phillips County