Youth Changing The World
by Greg Ellis-Valencia - One Cool Earth, Executive Director
We often overlook the power of youth to change the world. Michael and Adriana are two students who represents the force of change that a few kids can create during recess.
Adriana and Micheal got involved when their teacher, Jim Roether, formed a lunch-time club--The Green Team--in partnership with One Cool Earth. Micheal and a few of his peers set out to change their school's environmental impact. Over the course of the year, The Green Team learned from One Cool Earth's educator and Mr. Roether about watersheds, and how humans impact their environment through waste and pollution. During the school year, several guest presenters visited the class, including County Supervisor Frank Mecham, Central Coast Salmon Enhancement's water testing professionals, Mayor Steve Martin, and a representative of a hydroponics company.
Undaunted by the problems they saw, Adriana, Michael and their team set forth with fresh ideas and optimism. Early in the year, they launched a compost and recycling program, bringing recycling to their campus. Every day at lunch, Adriana, Michael and their classmates would take turns standing at the lunch line, collecting uneaten fruits and vegetables to serve. The food they collected was fed to worms, which in turn produced compost for the student garden. During class once each week, students would collect recyclables from each classroom, sorting it into the proper dumpster.
Michael, Adriana and their team realized that styrofoam lunch trays were a big problem on campus. Although they were inexpensive for the school to buy, they took up a lot of space in the dumpster and increased waste hauling costs. And styrofoam requires hundreds of years to break down after being useful for only 15 minutes. To demonstrate how many trays the school used, the Green Team began collecting the trays. Once they'd accumulated several thousand, they stacked them, and using lumber and adobe, made a temporary structure to display both the problem of waste and also the solution of 'upcycling', or converting waste into a useful product.
The Green Team's hard work did not go unnoticed. The Green Team's school was awarded a grant by the local US Green Building Council for their work on recycling. The Food Services Director, in part due to the students bringing the styrofoam trays to his attention, replaced them with recyclable trays. To wrap up the year, the Green Team presented their projects to the community and were featured in the local Telegram Tribune (click to read the article).
Through EarthGenius's programs at over 21 schools, students are showing their leadership. 17 schools have begun recycling and composting programs to divert waste from the landfill and svae their schools money. Other schools have grown hundreds of native trees to give away and plant in the community. Five schools have installed rainwater catchment systems, and several others have installed drought tolerant gardens. From water savings, to waste, to revegetation and sustainable landscaping, students are taking responsibility for their campuses. Let's continue to value them and give them the space to do what they care about.