Friday, September 5, 2008

Education is Eco-Logical

Last year's lunch box? Check.

Reusable water bottle in lieu of juice box? 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.


Burbanmom said...

Great resource post! Thanks, GB! Will definitely be drilling into this one for school-greening info!

greeen sheeep said...

Great advice.
Thanks for the extra resources!

Tameson said...

Why isn't your kid on the bus? One bus holds about 60 kids vs a carpool car holding maybe 5 or 6 tops (I'm thinking mini-van, but a sedan or an SUV will have even less seating capacity). That's even fewer cars picking their kids up at school and more efficient use of fuel that's already being expended and less traffic to contend with for those students who do walk. Forget the carpool - Ride the bus!

Green Bean said...

Burbs: Word of the day? Drill, baby, drill?

Greeen Sheeep: Hope they are helpful.

Tameson: Interesting. I'd never thought of the bus. My school district doesn't have any - except for special ed kids. And, now that I think about it, neither did the school district I grew up in or any of the neighboring school districts - where I grew up or where I live now. I'm not sure why that is. We actually live 1/2 a block from our neighborhood school and so we obviously could walk there. We chose an alternative school, though, because we felt it was a much much better place for our son despite the commute. I'll have to bring this up at our green team meeting and see if anyone knows why there are no buses.

kale for sale said...

Let them eat kale! Yes, and feed the leftovers to the chickens. This is a brilliant post because it's all about the kids. They're the ones who are going to be living in the wake of how we live today. And their minds are so beautifully fresh and open to new ideas and ways of doing things. I've watched the kids in my life repeatedly teach their parents. That's sustainability at its best.

eco 'burban mom said...

Another great list of ways to take it to the next level! I love the idea of an edible garden. Our middle school devotes field upon field to... athletics. We don't have a single field devoted to growing anything. Hmmmm, there has to be a science teacher or two I can corner on curriculum night that might be interested in this project! I do so love to corner teachers!! ;o)

Melinda said...

Great post, GB!

I'm shocked your school district doesn't have buses. Weird. I was in Oakland until the end of the 3rd grade, and there were buses (though I was close enough that I walked with friends). And here in Seattle, buses were a bit thing - if there wasn't a school bus that went by your house, you received free tokens for the public bus system.

Melinda said...

Er... I mean buses were a big thing in Seattle.

Jennifer Taggart said...

Great post to push it a little further . . . and we just need to keep pushing.

The Smart Mama

Donna said...

Lots of good ideas here! Andrew's still two years away from kindergarten so we haven't had to deal with these issues, yet, but I know we will!

I think the reason your school district has never had buses is because the schools have traditionally been neighborhood schools and everyone walked or rode their bikes. No one's commute was considered long enough to need a bus until high school. At least that's what I remember. :)

JAM said...

We only have buses if you are 2 miles away (for HS) and I think 1.5 mi away (for elem and MS) so there are about half the kids that ride the bus in the younger grades, but almost none in HS. Of course, not very many kids WALK those 1.5 or 2 miles to get to school. More cars...

Green Bean said...

Katrina: What better vegetable is there?? I don't know about you but my big take away from Slow Food Nation was to get into the schools and other institutions and make some changes.

EcoBurbie: I laughed out loud at your comment. Cornering teachers! You rock.

Melinda: I think Donna has the answer, see her comment.

Jennifer: Push, push, push.

Donna: You are so right. Donna grew up in the small town that I live in now. The district is small and schools are scattered throughout neighborhoods. Everybody can walk and many do. We chose an alternative school which, despite the commute, was the right fit for my son. As the first school in the district to implement recycling and composting and to set up a green team, I think it was also the right fit for me. ;-)

Jam: I think you are right. It's a distance thing and theoretically people could walk. I'm happy to say that here a good number do of those with littles do. The big kids, ironically, are more likely the ones to be picked up.

CindyW said...

Awesome post! I love the ideas and the resources.

Under the pressure from my kids, I gave in to the idea of ordering one hot lunch for them at school. Watching all the containers get tossed out and silly bottled water even one lunch a week makes me regret the decision. At least I only signed up for one month - that's 4 lunches. I think I will go back to packing their lunches every day.

I am very excited that the parents organization is sponsoring a lunch compost program. Yay!

We still haven't biked to school yet. But as we are getting more settled with the schedule, we will bike again :)

Diane MacEachern said...

Thanks for so many great ideas, especially about school bus pollution. Environmental Defense Fund has published a terrific brochure called Protecting Our Kids' Health: Reduce School Bus Diesel Pollution Today, available at, if anyone wants more info.

The Not Quite Crunchy Parent said...

Great post!

We do have a pretty big organic garden at our school...but, as Alice Waters found's pretty hard to have a garden big enough to supply a whole the organic lunches they serve at my son's school must be supplemented with food from an outside supplier. that said, I think it makes a big impact on the kids that they have "gardening class" and learn about the process.

Alissa said...

Hi there,
I just found your blog, and this post made me wince a little. My oldest will be off to Kindergarten next year, and it hadn't really occurred to me just how eco-unfriendly schools can be. At home I can carefully control our environment, avoid chemicals and toxins, eat organic, local, vegetarian food, avoid consumerism, etc. I've just realized that I could be turning my kids over to a school that is totally contradictory to our belief system. Homeschooling is really starting to appeal to me! Kudos to you for effecting change at your child's school. What a great, great message to send to those children.


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