Dr. Veena Raman
16 March 2016
To the Faculty and Staff of Montrose Area School District, Pennsylvania,
Earth Day Every Day: Why Every School Should Be an Eco-School
Dear School Board of Montrose, Faculty, and Staff,
I understand there have recently been issues with negotiating teachers’ contracts and benefits due to lack of funds. Many schools across the country are running into issues with allocating funds efficiently. I would like to exhibit that schools can save money and become better by “going green.” There are endless reasons why it is important to become environmental stewards, but I would like to highlight some of the ways in which “going green” will save the school money, help in our community, and decrease the collective impact on the environment; many of these actions are already taking place in other public schools and there are various programs that help alleviate the costs. Through the reduction of use of wasteful material, composting, recycling, and learning from other schools before Montrose, I believe a huge difference can take place in our community.
During and after the industrial revolution, people were more concerned with convenience and, as a result, disposable goods became more popular. Cheap and Easy became a slogan, but in reality, it is often not as cheap as one may think. Think about the amount of disposable products used every day: coffee cups, napkins, plasticware, anything with plastic wrap, lunch bags, and water bottles. Many adults were taught that disposability was easier and cheaper, but now it is the job of the future generations to change this idea in the hopes that a better, more habitable Earth will exist.
Consider some statistics about human consumption: according to Environmental Protection Agency Data from 2006, humans produce 4.6 pounds of trash per person per day; 35% of that waste comes from schools and businesses. Only 33% of the total waste in the U.S. is recycled. Meanwhile, 55% of the 251 million tons of trash produced is buried in landfills. One-quarter of all methane released into the air is a result of the trash in the landfills. Liquid leaches out of the material that is not decomposing properly because landfills are often sealed from air and water that would speed up the decomposing process (Kulpinski). Humans make too much garbage for habits to continue as they are. Imagine if everyone from a school or business recycled and composted as much as they could while they were at work and at home–how much would be saved? Recycling currently reduces the amount of carbon emissions by 49.7 million metric tons. It takes 95% less energy to make a can from recycled materials than from new materials (Kulpinski). If good practices are taught in enough schools then those students and faculty members may develop habits that they pass on to others and utilise in other areas of their lives.
Switching to reusable products can save money and produce less waste. For example, it takes four gallons of water to create one gallon of bottled water. It’s not just bad for the Earth though. Every time a single serving-size bottle of water is purchased, it costs around $7.50 a gallon- that is more than three-hundred times the cost of tap water (Boesler). If students and teachers were encouraged to bring reusable containers for water, schools could save the money that would go into buying bottled water.
If disposable water bottles must be used, they should be recycled. In the U.S. alone, 85% of water bottles aren’t recycled. For every 150 bottles of water, switching to tap water would save $225 (hearts.com). Water fountains are already in place in most elementary schools, and water bottle-filling stations would be an attractive way to get everyone to use refillable water bottles. Filling stations can be costly, however, and many complain that tap water does not “taste as good” as water from water bottles. Filtration systems could help with this issue.
Helping public schools convert to becoming more eco-friendly also encourages STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math)-learning. “Going green” encourages biology and helps kids realize the importance of technology and engineering in our society. STEM-learning is being stressed in order to keep up with international education. Thinking about the future of the environment can be daunting, but it is extremely necessary when considering the lives and future behaviors of humans towards the earth.
As parents or community members, everyone should desire sustainable conduct, and helping create these “green” habits from a young age will raise future awareness. Endowments and initiatives to help schools become more energy and waste efficient will help finance schools that have the drive to become green. PA Green and Healthy Schools supports schools in Pennsylvania in becoming more eco-friendly. Seven Generations Ahead wants to begin encouraging Zero-waste schools (WEEF). There are green grants that fund schools in stormwater-management and fund permeable pavers, green roofs and desire the use of rain gardens and infiltration fields. Funds can either reimburse the initial costs to installing and using these green practices or technology, or they can fund the design of the green practices. Community foundations within the area have been known to help schools finance initial costs of going green- the community foundation at Oak Park Elementary helped fund their school’s actions. Park Elementary received a $9,875.00 grant from the Wisconsin Environmental Education Board (eeinwisconsin.org). Some funding pushes for environmental education, which will become increasingly important in the imminent environmental situation. There are funds for alternative clean energy such as solar energy and wind energy: within our area there are grants from the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Community and Economic Development helping to finance geothermal energy practices (dsireusa.org).
Schools that “go green” can become role models for other districts and receive national recognition for their efforts. Many recognized “green” schools tend to have better performance in school (asumag.com). The Green Ribbon Award from the U.S. Department of Education recognizes schools that bring down costs and environmental impact. This nationally renowned award would allow schools to achieve attention and credit across the country. Reducing costs is one of the major Pillars of schools to be eligible to earn the Green Ribbon Award, once again showing that going green is healthy for people, the earth, and taxpayers’ wallets.
Schools can lower costs by “going green,” and although doing so can be initially expensive, the return of investment is well worth the expense. Public schools in Pennsylvania, as well as in other states, have shown the possibilities that exist. Park Forest Elementary of State College, Pennsylvania claims to have reduced the monthly cost of disposal from $534 per month to $261 per month. Through composting programs, such as the use of “vermicompost bins” (the use of worms fed with leftover food and compostable paper products), and recycling programs, schools can reduce waste by incredible amounts. Six schools, including Oak Park Elementary in Illinois, claimed to have a total saving amount of $26,000. The reduction of light usage and increased recycling and compost are some of the most helpful ways to reduce costs.
Composting comes in a variety of forms. Vermicompost involves placing food waste or compostable paper products (wax free) into a container with worms. It is one of the fastest ways to compost. Schools can donate to local farmers that desire food waste (not all food waste can go to this, for example, pigs cannot digest egg shells). Kids could use the product to grow seeds of different plants and learn about responsibility and agriculture.
In order to recycle more material, some of the schools used diversion techniques, such as making garbage cans less accessible while making recycling bins larger. They encouraged recycling with the use of reminder signs above the bins for kids and teachers to recognize what can be recycled. Unicycler.com states that the “rule of thumb is no trashcan without a recycling and compost can next to it.” Park Forest Elementary had teams of students and teachers raising awareness by taking trips to the closest landfill in order to understand all that is wasted every day. This school also had tables set up for kids to see what objects can be recycled (pagreenschools,org). This exemplifies why becoming green offers a learning advantage to those involved, while saving money for the schools.
Many elementary schools, Choconut Valley and Lathrop Street included, perform science experiments in which students learn basic biology while watching plants grow. Teaching children how plants grow and interact in different life cycles and ecosystems is vital to science, particularly biology and chemistry. Using compost created by students allows them to measure the quality of the soil, see how it affects the plant, and therefore demonstrates exactly how what you leave on your plate or in the environment can directly impact the wildlife around you. Learning about the chemical composition of compost involves a mix of nitrogen-rich materials (vegetables, tea, coffee grounds, fruit, egg shells) and carbon-rich materials (grass, wood, leaves) and ensures that the compost will be rich in different materials for the plants to grow (unicycler.com). Imagine children learning how certain food waste or salinity in water can make certain plants thrive. Students could eat things they have grown themselves and learn to appreciate the benefits of farming. Oak Park Elementary plans to eat the student-grown vegetables at a Harvest Festival in the fall following the planting (OakPark.com). This opens up several possibilities for plant usage, and if the children successfully grow crops, they could even be sold to earn money for school supplies or for children in need.
Schools can also make a positive impact in their immediate surroundings. Park Elementary of Wisconsin helped return the environment around the school to the grasslands habitat it once was by studying the seeds and replanting the local prairie lands. Park Forest Elementary in State College also participates in learning from and protecting the local PFE Wetlands and considers this one of the school’s initiatives (scads.org).
Schools can also become more conservative in their energy usage. Something as simple as switching to more efficient lighting can save large amounts of energy. Not only should we encourage keeping unnecessary lights turned off, but schools should also switch all their light bulbs to those that are more energy-efficient. Teaching class outdoors in the nicer weather months would allow students to receive the benefits of fresh air and explore the world around them, while also saving energy. It could be utilized as an experience to grow plants and even teach or read books out loud (which already occurs in most classrooms) while students are being productive in their self-made gardens. Park Elementary in Wisconsin has a 9,000 square foot rain garden, with only fifty-one staff members, proving it does not take a large team of students and employees to make a considerable impact in the area around them.
Choconut Valley Elementary currently has an outdoor classroom that is not often used. Planting gardens around the school and creating an outdoor area to learn and grow would benefit both the students and faculty. Gardens could especially benefit those without an opportunity to grow gardens themselves or play outside safely at home while also encouraging the use of the outdoor classroom.
Green initiatives sound exciting and wonderful, but often they require people willing to dedicate a lot of personal time. Teaching as a profession tends to be underappreciated and this makes it difficult to ask for more time from teachers that are involved in clubs and have to balance their family lives at home. “Going green” would not only involve placing compost bins on the school ground, but would also include reinventing a school in a greener image, which would take a huge amount of initiative. I believe Montrose has the student drive and the faculty and staff support to apply for green grants and make the school a better learning environment.
Many schools around the country have been so concerned with standardized tests that they have forgotten these exams are meant to test knowledge. If we instill a love of learning and apply that learning to real life, perhaps students’ performances on tests will improve. Some of the green initiatives, such as gardening, could take time away from a traditional classroom setting, which would be especially challenging for teachers dealing with students that have trouble focusing or do not behave well. It could also be a challenge to implement this because it is easier not to do the extra work that comes with “going green.” Working with adults who may not believe in recycling or have always done something differently may make it harder to implement school-wide change, especially considering state-wide standards of learning must be met; however, many of the schools claim their performance has improved after implementing these changes. This is one of the standards to receive a Green Ribbon Award (eeinwisconsin.org).
We are going to have to trust that the children of this generation will be able to handle the world we are leaving for them. They must be able to function in a world in which there will not be as many resources as there are today and growing food will be more challenging. The world is constantly changing. Unless the next generation is better equipped to handle this change than we are, what hope is there for the future? Imagine instead of the wastelands predicted by dystopian films, a world well taken care of by proud, involved citizens that devote themselves to the earth they have been given.
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