Earth Day 2014: April 22
“I believe that by working together the Berkeley schools, like mine, will one day no longer need trash cans. We can just recycle and compost. We will no longer add our trash to landfills and instead we will give our compost to Mother Nature.” –Sophia Padron, student at Oxford Elementary School (from her 2013 testimony to the BUSD School Board in favor of the Waste Reduction Resolution)
Earth Day is a great day to celebrate and inspire actions that help protect our environment, our health, and our communities. All across Berkeley Unified School District, students, teachers, parents, principals, custodians, and staff have been hard at work reducing our schools’ environmental footprint! From installing solar to riding bikes to school, and from growing food to composting, we have a lot to celebrate.
Enjoy this update from the Green Schools Initiative:
Berkeley-based Green Schools Initiative, run by Deborah Moore and Susan Silber and supported by the Altamont Education Advisory Board, Clif Bar Family Foundation, Whole Foods, and Stopwaste.org, has been working with BUSD to implement the Green Star Schools Program to reduce waste across the district for the last two years. At the beginning of the project, BUSD had some of the lowest recycling rates of schools in Alameda County, diverting only 36% of its waste from the landfill.
Now, after two years of the Green Star Schools Program, Berkeley schools are diverting 58% of their waste by practicing the 4Rs – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot (compost)!!! Thanks to all the hard work of Green Teams at each school, the teaching, awareness-raising, and proper sorting has reduced our waste by nearly 800 tons per year, which is reducing our emissions of greenhouse gasses by almost 2,100 tons. This reduction is like taking 400 cars off the road for a year!
Hopefully, you have noticed the new signs and waste stations at Berkeley schools.
- Washington Elementary and Willard Middle schools, for example, have multi-sort waste stations on wheels in their cafeteria, built by Washington custodian Rafael DelaTorre .
- Berkeley High, Berkeley Arts Magnet, and Emerson have new multi-sort outdoor waste stations so recycling and composting can be done when students eat lunch and snack outside.
- King, Willard, Thousand Oaks, and Oxford are all now composting waste from breakfast, which used to be thrown in the garbage.
- Custodians like David Kleckley (King), Maria Ruiz (King), Devyne Coleman (Emerson), and Dinesh Kumar (Rosa Parks) are composting paper towels in the bathroom and helping create new waste management systems that fit into their routines.
- Green Teams at LeConte and Malcolm X have made great strides in monitoring sorting at lunchtime. Schools have been creative in drawing attention to proper sorting – BAM even re-purposed old desks into waste stations thanks to parent-builder Michael Butler.
- At Willard, the Green Team – led by Gizella Szegedy (parent), Patty Bonsall (teacher), Dora Szegedy (student) and a group of Willard student “Green Ninjas” – hosted a “Green Store” where students who earned “green tickets” by sorting properly at lunch could cash-in their tickets for eco-friendly prizes like reusable napkins and water bottles.
Sustainability is truly a community practice, benefiting from everyone’s participation! There are so many wonderful stories to share: from English as a Second Language students and teacher Peggy Datz at the Berkeley Adult School spearheading recycling efforts, to Emerson science teacher Faith Jordan’s student “Green Monsters” that produced a skit with The Fairy Godmother “Waste-Elda” showing students why and how to sort and protect the Earth. Thanks to custodians like Cragmont’s Jack Ray working with teachers like Kathleen Giustino and Dennis Hall and the student “Green Dragons,” the school has cut its garbage pickups by half!
Berkeley High students made a video called “Think Before You Throw” in Summer 2013, with the help of local film producer and Rosa Parks parent Kevan Jenson, that educates and inspires people to reduce waste and has been shown in most of BUSD’s elementary schools Check out the video, including cameos by Mayor Bates and Superintendent Evans, who enjoyed working with the students on their summer project.
This Spring, 25 Oxford Elementary students made a documentary – Co-produced by parents Ouahiba Laribi and Edward Hill with the help of student Kalen Pecson (King, Oxford alum) – called “Oxford News” that interviews students about their views on the environment and Earth Day. Garden and science teachers like Rachel Harris (John Muir, LeConte, Thousand Oaks) and Rivka Mason (Malcolm X) have been integrating compost lessons into their curricula.
Andrew Schneider, the City of Berkeley’s Recycling Manager, and Loren Nakamura with BUSD Plant Operations, have visited all the school sites, and collaborated with custodians district-wide to create effective systems and service levels that save the district money through lower garbage fees. Mini-grants to schools have purchased needed equipment, including clear signs, and appropriate compost and recycling bins for indoors and outdoors. Some custodians, like Aaron Wright at Thousand Oaks, are testing wheeled split-cart dollies to evaluate if they make it easier to dispose of separated materials with fewer trips to the dumpsters.
Parents have been supporting these efforts in numerous ways and have made great strides at reducing waste at school-wide events and PTA meetings, including:
- At Longfellow Middle School, parents Anushka Drescher and Mary Carleton have been setting up waste stations, monitoring, and cheerfully teaching parents the why’s and where’s of reducing waste.
- Parent Larry Kass at BAM borrowed multi-sort waste stations from the City of Berkeley loans for the annual BAM Jam and reduced the trash from 500 people to one small bag – everything else was composted and recycled!
- King Middle School Green Team parents Franziska Raedeker and Christine Staples ensure that PTA events use all re-usable foodware.
So plan ahead and borrow them for your Spring Fair (click this link for resources and contact information for school-wide events).
On April 14, the Altamont Education Advisory Board renewed its support for the Green Star Schools Program and gave a third grant to Green Schools Initiative and BUSD for the 2014-2015 school year, to continue to strive towards “zero waste” and fulfilling the BUSD School Board’s 2013 Resolution to reduce the amount of compostable and recyclable material sent to the landfill to “less than 10%” by 2020.
The students, teachers, and staff say it the best:
- “It’s really important to learn this stuff in school because then we learn how to take care of the Earth… The more people that participate in these activities, the cleaner the Earth will be. — Kaia, Jefferson School
- “I really felt proud doing our classroom presentations about the 4Rs. I like knowing that I made a difference in the world. I got nervous, but was really happy knowing that I was making a big change in people. I was actually helping someone to do something important.” — Sienna, Jefferson School (4th grade)
- “The students feel ownership and are empowered to make a change toward a better school and world.” – Ms. Audrey Amos, Principal, John Muir Elementary
- “One thing I liked about the Green Star Schools program was it got the students involved. I liked the effort to live better and help the planet.” – Rafael DelaTorre, Custodian, Washington Elementary
- “[Green Star Schools is] a great resource that helps in all ways, both with knowledge and funds to build a solid recycling and environmental program at a grassroots/classroom level.” BUSD Teacher
Thank you to everyone – especially the Green Team parents, teachers, and students – for working together to make Berkeley schools as green as can be. We still can and will do better as we work towards “zero waste” and, like Sophia said, a day when we no longer need trash cans. Let’s make every day Earth Day throughout Berkeley schools!
There are more resources for getting involved with all kinds of activities, waste-free lunch tips, downloadable signs, lesson plans, green classroom awards, student action projects, videos, free field trips, and more.