By Lena Atutoa, 6th Grade Teacher, Oak Street School
The Green movement is growing! Last year Kelso Elementary participated in the Grades of Green Trash Free Lunch Challenge. Inspired by the school’s accomplishment, Oak Street Elementary will take on the challenge this year as well. As part of the challenge, participating schools teach students how to reduce lunch waste by reducing, recycling, sharing and composting. Schools compete to win a $1,000 first prize, $750 second prize, or a $500 third prize. Oak Street is putting together an impressive bid and has dozens of unique components to its system.
The first are students. From grades 2-6, volunteers make up the Green Team Super Sorters. These students “man the station” and direct students on where the various components of their lunches go when they have finished eating. No longer do students simply dump everything into an all-purpose garbage can. They stack cardboard trays to take up less space in the recycling bin. They recycle plastic food containers and empty milk cartons. Even leftover fresh fruits and vegetables such as carrots and apple cores are composted. Oak Street’s after-school LEAP Program has an amazing garden that features three composters. Students learn to take something that otherwise would be dumped into a landfill and transform it into nutrients for its herb and vegetable garden. The garden and composters are key components of Oak Street’s program and valuable tools teachers use to provide students with hands-on learning opportunities.
Rewards and incentives are also a key part of the program’s success. Students are encouraged to pack trash free lunches on Tuesdays. Students who bring lunches in reusable containers with no disposable packaging win raffle tickets. At the monthly assemblies, students draw for cool and eco-conscious prizes. Trash free lunches aren’t the only thing rewarded. Student volunteers and Super Sorters are also selected monthly to receive movie tickets. Every volunteer receives a certificate honoring his/her contribution.
Furthermore, our program will be infinitely enhanced this summer thanks to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity awarded to Oak Street 2nd grade teacher Ms. Claire Darsa. Through the Earthwatch Institute, Ms. Darsa applied for and received a coveted spot as team member of an expedition slated to study climate change at the Arctic’s edge in northern Canada in July. She will help field and lab researchers collect and analyze baseline quantitative data on climate-related changes in northern ecosystems. She will collect data on native species and water quality from tundra ponds and wetlands. Afterwards, she will enter and process the data she collects in the laboratory as part of the study. We are very proud of her! When Ms. Darsa returns to Oak, she will be an invaluable resource to help lift our program to even higher levels.
Extending hands-on experiences to students through our program will meet two essential goals. It will provide engaging, real-world learning opportunities that will teach multiple subject areas at greater levels of depth and complexity. It will also empower students to help sustain and extend positive, environmentally-conscious practices for generations to come. Oak Street Elementary school is taking its first steps towards greater environmental consciousness and action. By participating in the Grades of Green Trash Free Lunch Challenge and bringing real-life experiences into the classroom, Oak Street sets out to nurture better global citizens.