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COAL SCHOOLS | Higher Education, at Altitude

By Brian Kevin

Courtesy of Warren Brunner/Kentuckians for the Commonwealth
It's not your average undergrad institution that schedules regular class trips involving recon in a Cessna. But tiny Berea College, perched on the periphery of eastern Kentucky's coalfields, is not your average school. Its 11-year-old Sustainability and Environmental Studies program offers one of the country's most innovative and progressive curricula. While students in the Sustainable Appalachian Communities class take aerial field trips to scope out nearby mountaintop-removal sites, the larger SENS program emphasizes ecological design and household resiliency with courses like Building Renovation and Integrated Ecological Households.

Berea's campus includes the 50-unit Ecovillage, an experiment in eco-education and green building that uses passive solar heating, photovoltaic panels, and permaculture gardening. Student residents in the village's SENS demonstration house consume less than 3 kilowatt-hours of electricity per person per day—compared with the average Kentuckian's 16—and the house's entire water supply comes from UV-filtered rainwater.

The 50 apartments in Berea's Ecovillage provide sustainable housing for students and families, who manage on-site gardens. | From left: courtesy of Berea College/Michelle Towles; Berea College/Megan Vaught; Berea College/Damian Buttle

"The Ecovillage and SENS carry out a very specific part of Berea's mission," says 2005 grad Patricia Feeney, who went on to work with West Virginia's Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. "They're providing people with concrete solutions to take back to their communities, to take out into Appalachia and show that there is a better way."

The "Coal Schools" articles were funded by the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign. For a complete collection of Sierra's coal coverage, see To learn more about the Sierra Student Coalition's Campuses Beyond Coal campaign, go to To view the SSC's "2 Dirty 4 College" videos, go to and




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