Fall wardrobe from local thrift stores and garage sales? Check.
Last year's lunch box? Check.
Reusable water bottle in lieu of juice box? Check.
Waste free lunch? Check.
Backpack made from recycled drink containers? Check.
Carpool or bike route? Check.
Going back to school green-style is so eco-easy these days that it may be time to raise the bar. As I prepare to send my oldest off to kindergarten, I'm wondering how I can have a bigger impact. How I can move beyond recycled paper and eco friendly pencils to programs that include entire classrooms or schools, projects that inspire students and ripple out into the community.
Here are a few ways you and I can eco-ize education:
Stop Your Engines: You'll see it at every school, on every day, sometimes in the morning, always in the afternoon. Cars lined up, engines idling, as the inhabitant waits for his or her child to emerge. But idling engines create unnecessary carbon emissions, waste gas and money, and, perhaps most importantly for parents, aggravate asthma and other respiratory conditions. Follow Organic Picks comprehensive post to convince your school to adopt a no-idling zone.
Cleaner Commutes: Last year, a group of concerned local parents went to City Hall to ask for help in promoting exercise, combating childhood obesity and reducing pollution. They had joined the Safe Routes to School Program. Soon, the first Wednesday of every month was dubbed a Car-less day and students were encouraged to walk, bike or at least carpool to school. Here is a step-by-step program for getting Safe Routes to School in your district. Cleaner commutes can happen more often than one Wednesday a month, though. A parent at my son's school offered to coordinate carpools for the entire school. Parents email her their schedules and locations and she plays matchmaker. The same thing could be done for walking school buses.
Slow Food for Slow Schools: This year, I'm channeling my inner Alice Waters and have joined my son's school garden team. What that will entail, I have no idea. But we need to reconnect our children with their food sources and we need to get them back outside. The Edible Schoolyard is chock full of resources for starting and maintaining edible gardens at schools, for incorporating gardens into classroom lessons and for cooking up beautiful harvests to inspire students. This teacher's account of working along side the original Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley will bring tears to your eyes and a determination to get our kids growing. Sustainable Schoolyards offers plans and presentations for outdoor learning. Ideas for re-vamping hot lunch programs can be found at Two Angry Moms. And you can learn how to get farm fresh, locally grown food on to our children's plates at Farm to School. So go ahead. Let them eat kale!
Recycling and Composting: Last year, a local mom offered to spearhead a recycling and composting program. Her children's K-8 school shares a campus with a preschool and a middle school. Fourth graders took responsibility for educating the rest of the campus on the importance of composting through posters, skits, loud speaker announcements and re-directing traffic away from garbage cans. Three months and many strategically placed recycling and compost bins later, the campus has dramatically reduced the waste it sends to landfill and the students feel great for doing the green thing.
Fundraisers: Unfortunately, all schools are strapped for cash these days. That doesn't mean that our kids have to hawk the ubiquitous virgin wrapping paper or non-fair trade chocolate though. Green fundraising has come a long way. A friend recently launched a Chico reusable bag fundraiser for the local 4H group. Not only do 4H-ers now sell reusable bags that (a) folks need and (b) help folks kick the plastic bag habit, they can also educate others about the downsides of single use bags. Loads of other green fundraising ideas can be found at Surely You Nest.
Green Clean: What's in your closet? Your school's janitorial closet, that is? Most likely it's filled with giant jugs of aqua colored stuff that makes you wince when you smell it. Our kids spend a lot of time in their classrooms and the EPA has concluded that "indoor levels of pollutants may be 2-5 times, and occasionally more than 100 times, higher than outdoor levels." Visit Green Clean Schools for a step-by-step guide to greener, cleaner and healthier schools.
As September swings in and my son steps out the door for his carpool, I realize that my impact can be enormous. That I can make a change at a school and in a community just by speaking up, taking the lead, following through on any of the programs listed above. I can give my kids - and your kids - a better lunch, a safer school, a healthier planet.