I’m a junior at New Canaan High School, and I am grateful for the ways my schools have worked environmental lessons into my education. When environmental consciousness starts young, students can form green habits that will stick with them for the rest of their lives. While tight budgets may make it a challenge for schools to make big changes, here are some inexpensive ways to get started greening your school.
1. Save recyclables for art projects.
In elementary and middle school, I remember using common household recyclables in almost every art project. We were encouraged to keep tissue boxes, newspapers, magazines, toilet paper rolls, milk jugs, and more. One popular project was paper mache, which required layers of newspaper usually recovered from our parents. We created collages by cutting scraps from magazines. These projects allowed students to be creative, but used leftover magazines instead of printing images onto fresh pieces of paper.
2. Take a field trip.
Nothing helps a school become greener than a motivated student population. And one of the best ways to get students motivated is through learning about things firsthand. A trip to visit an energy plant, landfill, farm or recycling center can be an eye-opening experience, and most places are willing to give free tours. I will always remember going to a recycling center in third grade and seeing the thousands of plastic items being sorted into different categories. This trip made me realize how significant recycling was for making new items and reducing landfills. These types of outings gives students an opportunity to see how their local community is being affected by their actions and learn how they can be a part of positive changes.
3. Grow a garden.
Creating a small garden can teach students that going green can mean getting dirty. Research shows that while gardening is a great learning platform, it can also encourage healthier eating habits and improve collaborative skills. With a garden, students can work there, eat lunch there, and sell the produce. In my elementary school garden, we would grow flowers and give them to our mothers for Mothers Day. It was a truly green present that reaped many benefits to everyone involved in the growing process.
While there are many great reasons to start a school garden, the task may seem daunting. A key to a successful program will involve a community of people including teachers, students, parents, and community volunteers. Kidsgardening.org has detailed resources on how to build the garden and projects to help students understand the significance of a garden.
4. Conduct a food waste audit.
In cafeterias everywhere, many students are throwing away their milk cartons or apples that come with their lunches. By studying the amount of food that is going to waste in their cafeteria and coming up with solutions to the problem of food waste, students can make a direct impact on their school environment while taking an important lesson with them for the rest of their lives. The Guide to Conducting Food Waste Audits was developed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the University of Arkansas to help schools get insight into what food is going to waste and how to prevent it.
5. Take action against idling.
As a student, I see the idling as a prevalent issue in the mornings when students sit in their cars before school, and in the afternoon when parents wait for their children with their cars running. By law in Connecticut, three minutes or more of idling is illegal, but this is rarely enforced. Many states have similar laws. Many of these people are not trying to be wasteful and probably don’t even think about it. Or, they have the outdated notion that restarting your car wastes more gas than letting it run.
People can become better informed and more willing to change their habits if they are exposed to the facts or just reminded of the issue. Simply just putting up a sign or sending an email to parents can help. Or, share the video above. You can read more about the issue and take action at iturnitoff.com.