Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sprouts of Hope: Greening Our School

Composting Gets Launched at King Open

By Maya

Two years ago the Sprouts of Hope, a Roots & Shoots group in Cambridge, MA, went to city's school committee to tell them why we thought we should stop having to use polystyrene lunch trays at our school. The members of the committee seemed very interested and listened to what we had to say. We wrote them a thank you note to tell them how much we appreciated them listening to our ideas and asked them again about changing the trays. About a month later, we went back to talk to them again -- and this time we read our thank you note --and then they passed a motion to require the superintendent to look for environmentally friendly alternatives to how we were using the trays in our cafeteria.

The Superintendent created a committee that looked at all the different possibilities -- from using dishwashers in each school to wash reuseable trays to purchasing ones that would be able to turn into compost. After looking at price of compostable trays and evaluating the other options by how they would affect the environment, the committee decided to start a pilot composting program for food waste at our schools. When our school shows that it works, they will start to teach other schools how to do it, and eventually the idea is to be able to eat off of the kind of trays and use the kind of spoons and forks that we can also throw into the compost barrel.
To prepare for the composing program we had meetings after school on Thursdays. Two of the Sprouts of Hope -- Kaya and me -- were able to go to all the meetings, and some of the others went to some of them when they didn't have other activities. There were also three other kids from the afterschool environmental program called Cambridge Can, and one of the custodians at the school who has been helping us with our Waste Free Lunch days.

Here's a picture of two of the Cambridge Can members on our first day of composting.

Our science teacher Donna Peruzzi was always there to help us come up with ideas for how to get other kids really excited about the program. And here's a picture of her using the compost barrel in the cafeteria.

And we worked with Meryl Brott, who is the new recycling director for the city of Cambridge. Then, there was Randi Mail, who directs the city's Department of Public Works, and Jim Maloney, the COO for the Cambridge School Department. At some meetings, people like Jack Mingle, who heads the Cambridge schools' food department, and Jose Wendel and Dawn Olcott from the Cambridge Health Alliance joined us.

You can see pictures of Randi, below on the right, and Meryl, on the left, when they were helping us to do the composting that first day.
It was cool to think that because of what the Sprouts of Hope and two other kids from King Open had said to the school committee, we were now meeting with adults who are in charge of big departments in the school and in the city. And they were asking us for ideas about how to make this happen at our school!!! At one point they asked us to come up with an idea for a composting mascot, and so we talked about it, and then one day I did a pencil drawing of a worm wrapped around an apple core. I sketched the design and gave it to Jack Mingle one night when we went back this fall to talk with the Cambridge School Committee about the composting effort He said he liked it, and before I knew they'd taken my design and made it a cartoon-like mascot!!!

To get every one to feel excited about being the first kids in the city to do a composting program at a school, we planned to do two assemblies; one would be for kids from kindergarten to the 4th grade and the other for 5-8th graders. We planned them for the morning of the day when composting would begin -- our hope was to let all of the kids know what composting is, why it matters that we do it, and how to do it. Then we felt like it was really important to find ways to inspire them to want to do it.

During the assemblies Meryl Brott spoke about how it would work in the cafeteria and she did a great job of explaining how composting helps the environment. (It keeps a lot of waste out of landfills, and when food is put into landfills it gets buried in lots of trash and gives off methane gas which is really bad for global warming.) You can watch a movie we made about the day, and it shows how Meryl explained how composting helps animals -- and the kids loved seeing the animals on the screen.

The younger kids got to see a slide show that the Sprouts of Hope had made of students at King Open bringing eco-friendly containers and recycling their polystyrene trays during Waste Free Lunch days on days when we tried doing them at our school.

They also got to see Meryl and Randi do a demonstration of how to compost. For the older kids, after Meryl spoke, we showed a fun video that the Cambridge Can kids (you saw Eve and Brianna's picture earlier in the blog entry) made about all the trash we throw away at King Open and showed how easily we could reduce it and why it matters that we do. Next we played an inspiring “Yes We Can” video of President Obama speaking and singers performing that was put together by Will.I.Am. You can watch have fun watching it, too, on YouTube:

After that video played, a picture of “Martin Luther King” came up on the screen and a student, in voice that sounded a bit like his, gave us a message about how proud he was of us for doing something to make a positive difference in the world. (You can hear this on the YouTube movie, too.)

At lunch that day we became the first school in Cambridge to compost at school, and it went REALLY, REALLY well!!!! There were banners and posters in the cafeteria and notices were sent home to let families know it was happening.

The kids poured their liquids into the white bucket, and they put their food into the yellow bucket, trash into the black barrel, and their tray into a big bag that will take them to the place where they get recycled.

Everyone got a sticker saying, “I compost my school lunch because I care.”

We had student monitors who'd been trained to help other students and they got to wear aprons with our mascot on the front. They gave the kids good hints about how to put their waste in the right buckets. My mom took pictures and videos of the kids composting and saying how excited they are about doing this! When you watch the YouTube video about our first day -- you can find the link above -- and you'll get a good sense of how excited everyone was about doing the composting.

I knew that it would go well because the grown-ups in our school -- like Principal Tim -- and those from other places like the Department of Public Works helped us to be sure it did. But I didn’t think that it would go that well!! And Principal Tim said at our assembly how kids can be the ones who have good ideas and why it's important for grown-ups to listen to their ideas and find ways to help to make them happen. This is what happened with this idea -- since it started with kids talking about replacing the trays and ended up with us doing composting as a first step.
Here is a link to a Cambridge Chroncle article about the composting effort at King Open and it tells about how the Sprouts of Hope were involved in making it happen:
I hope the spirit of composting doesn’t go away so that our pilot program will go smoothly throughout the year. When that happens, then we know it will work at other schools in the future! And when it works at other schools, too, we will be that much closer to being able to replace the polystyrene trays with ones we can toss into the compost -- and that will be a very happy day, too!!
We've also learned that some kids at the Cambridge Rindge & Latin School, our city's high school, have started a Compost Club. From March 2nd through March 6th, some of the club's members, such as Jonah Vorspan-Stein and Eliza Cohen, who went to King Open, moved from table to table to collect food scraps and paper waste. While doing so, they explained to students how composting works and why it's important to do. A story in the school's newspaper says within a year the Compost Club hopes to establish permanent compost bins in the cafeteria and do more trial weeks of composting in the meantime. It also says that the club hopes to have assemblies and presentations about composting. We say "Go For It," and we hope it happens soon at your school, too.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Sprouts of Hope: Telling Our Stories to Adults

Speaking at the Massachusetts Environmental Education Society Conference

By Kaya

The Sprouts of Hope were extremely happy when Roots & Shoots New England told us we were invited to speak at the MEES conference. MEES stands for Massachusetts Environmental Education Society, and the organizers of its annual conference wanted us to talk about what we’d learned in trying to make our school, King Open in Cambridge, MA more “green” and also about some of our other environmental activities.

Learn more about MEES at:

Very early on Wednesday, March 4th (a school day!!) the seven Sprouts of Hope climbed into the car and we drove for about an hour to get to Holy Cross college in Worchester. The ride didn’t seem long because we were talking and listening to music on our Ipods, so it wasn’t a boring ride. We also got to miss the first half of the school day! This made the day even more fun.

There were lots of people who came to this conference, all of them adults; we were the only kids. Also Christine Ellersick, the program manager at the New England chapter of Roots & Shoots was there too, and she helped us provide information about Roots & Shoots to the people who came to hear us speak.

Here's Christine talking about Roots & Shoots -- and that us on the screen behind her.

We had our own room to do our presentation, and Maya and Mia were the Sprouts who talked that morning. [We take turns in speaking at events. ] About 25 adults came to listen because, as they told us, they were curious about how to make their schools greener by doing things like composting or starting a “green” club with the students. There were principals and teachers, even a Spanish teacher, and some who were students at universities. This made us excited and nervous! Principals! Wow!

We prepared a slideshow with pictures of a lot of our activities. We had pictures that show us speaking to the Cambridge School Committee about replacing our polystyrene lunch trays, and the Waste Free Lunch days we did at our school, our exhibit last year at the Cambridge Science festival about waste reduction, and our work in our school’s City Sprouts garden. The music we put with the pictures was from High School Musical; it’s called “We’re All In This Together.” At each seat we placed one of our “6 R’s” cards (you can see what the 6 R card we designed looks like below) and a couple of papers about Roots & Shoots that Christine had brought.
Our Talk

First Maya introduced all of us, and then she told the adults how we prepared for and organized our waste-free lunch days at our school and how we try to live by the six R’s – Rethink, Renew, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot – and teach others about how they can live with them, too. She told them about the survey we did in our school when we asked kids at King Open how they packed their lunch and what they did with the waste from it. Then, Maya let them know that normally our school produces 8 or 9 bags of trash per day and how on our waste free lunch days we were able to reduce that number by half. But, she told them, the number always went up again when the waste free lunch day was over. Our goal is to get kids to think about this every day so that the number of cafeteria trash bags can down to 3 each day.

Maya explained that our school can’t yet switch from using the polystyrene trays to using ones we can compost because they cost a lot more and we don't have composting in place. By the time we have our composting program in place, we hope the price of the other trays has dropped. We brought some trays with us – we call the polystyrene one the “bad” tray and the other one “good” – and we passed those around so everyone could see and feel the difference. Mia explained what happens when the trays are recycled. Amazingly, I had some of the little plastic pellets (the ones the polystyrene gets turned into) in my pocket, so we passed those around too. Mia told them that one big problem is that a lot of kids still throw their trays in with the trash so they don’t even get recycled. This means they go into landfills and end up giving off methane gas and that is really bad for global warming.

Mia talked about a lot of the activities that the Sprouts of Hope have done. She describe how each year we raise money so that we can give it away to support other groups doing good things in their communities. And she told them about the two times we’ve done an exhibit on opening day of the Cambridge Science Festival. We are going to another opening day exhibit about energy efficiency at this year’s Cambridge Science Festival on Saturday, April 25. Follow the link, below, to find out more about the festival. It's really fun, and we hope you’ll come to see our exhibit and the others on April 25th:

Maya talked about our current project with NStar. It involves each of us using a Power Cost Monitors and Kilo-watt meter at our home to measure our energy use. She also spoke about a school fundraising project we did with NStar when students like us sold fluorescent light bulbs. When she told a story about how one girl bought 100 bulbs for a “green wedding,” many people laughed and clapped their hands enthusiastically.

Mia then shared some important lessons we’ve learned in the two years we’ve been active in Roots & Shoots as the Sprouts of Hope.

  1. It's important kids understand they should try not to change everything all at the same time.
  2. Teach patience and persistence. It’s a winning combination!
  3. Don’t give up when something doesn’t work for the first time.
  4. Make good partners; include parents, teachers, staff, administrators and city employees.
  5. Help kids learn to document what they do – like this blog we do reminds us of what we’ve accomplished. And kids can use a blog to share their stories and communicate with others about what they’ve done.
  6. Celebrate your successes. Each year, the Sprouts go to an indoor rock climbing wall and we have fun helping each other to climb. And then we eat a cake and celebrate what we’ve done together.
  7. Evaluate how to best spent your limited time and energy.
  8. Be open to serendipity. Like this year when we went rock climbing, the guy who led us invited us to do one of our bake sales at MetroRock when they have a competition.

You can see our panel and listen to one of the teachers who was there talking about our talk on a short video we made:

Maya and Mia spoke wonderfully and answered questions at the end of their presentation. All the adults thanked us for doing such a good job in teaching them about what kids can do and how adults can encourage and support their efforts. Some of them didn’t know what they should do in their green clubs at their schools, so we offered advice. Others want to start a composting program at their school. Since our composting program is starting at our school on March 11th, we could tell them how we are preparing for that big event – with the pep rallies we are doing and how some of the other Cambridge departments, like the Department of Public Works which does the recycling and composting, are helping us to succeed.

When we drove to school, we were happy about how we'd shared what we’ve done and passed along some ideas and lessons learned that we think are helpful. Usually it’s the opposite, adults teach kids, but this time it was kids teaching adults. In the car, we were singing (at times yelling) along with the radio. It was fun to think that we'd taught others and learned a couple of things too at the event, so we were all extremely proud of ourselves. Go Sprouts of Hope!!!!!!