The Eco Schools Challenge
This past year I had the rewarding opportunity to participate as an Eco School Mentor at Lamar Elementary School. Thanks to our other mentors Hozefa Haidery and Helena Zambrano of Overland Partners, and Carlos Cruz of Debra Dockery, Architect, we had a very successful and fun year teaching the children of our community the importance of living sustainably and playing the role of Green Ambassadors at Lamar Elementary School.
The program was an after-school club that allowed the students to come up with their own project that would create a sustainable action. The project they come up with would be a competition with all other elementary schools participating in San Antonio. The first half of the program consisted of several lessons and activities teaching the students about Climate Change, Energy & Water, Healthy Schools, Consumption Waste, Transportation and Campus Biodiversity. During each session the students asked pertinent questions, discovering the relationships between various issues and inspiring them to think of projects they would develop to make a difference in their own schools, homes and community.
The second half of the program was all about the projects the students choose to educate, engage and enact. We had a class of high-achieving students who are genuinely concerned about the health of their planet. They called themselves the “LAMAR GREEN TIGERS” (actually they are TIGER CUBS) and began their journey to achieve reduction in carbon dioxide by taking on the COOL SCHOOL CHALLENGE. They began this initiative by making a COOL PLEDGE of how they would play a role in reducing their classroom’s carbon emissions by listing three personal actions they could do at their school and home. They called this their PASSPORT TO A BETTER HEALTHIER WORLD.
Working with their teachers Ms. Martinez and Ms. Ernst, the students used the Eco Schools USA Classroom Carbon Calculator to help gauge their classroom’s greenhouse gas emissions. This audit served as preliminary litmus test for the climate change and energy pathways. It set them up to take on the COOL SCHOOL CHALLENGE.
The enthusiastic bunch of 12 LAMAR GREEN TIGER Cubs worked in teams on three interconnected projects to create awareness in their school about how each member of the school community could make a difference.
In their discussions on various lessons on different possible pathways, the students were drawn to Consumption Waste, Energy & Water and Biodiversity pathways. Below is how these projects unfolded.
- Consumption and Waste: With a better understanding of reducing waste and importance of recycling, one afternoon the group of Cubs decided to surprise the mentors with a cardboard box decorated with items to recycle. Our hearts melted when we realized how quickly they were catching on. The box was to be placed at the main offices near the copier where they saw the most accumulated waste. By the end of the program they had
created a box for each of their classrooms. After the boxes were in place, they solicited the help of the janitor, whose job was to weigh the recycling at the end of the week. This would allow them to track how much waste they consciously reduced each week. The enthusiasm was contagious, motivating the school to request more large recycling bins for the entire school from SAISD.This reduction in waste was then input into their Classroom’s Carbon Calculator.
Besides establishing a culture of recycling, the students wanted to reduce waste by using only what is needed and not what is desired. After gaining permission from the principal, Brian Sparks, the students were allowed to “litter” the school with Helena’s stickers that stated “This Came From Trees.” They placed them on every paper towel dispenser, toilet paper dispensers and even near printers. The students were hoping to inspire others to use less and remember not to be wasteful.
- Energy & Water Pathway: Early on in their classroom lessons, they understood that the use of electricity was one of the big sources of carbon emissions. A spark of brilliance by one of the Cubs was seen upon the realization that the existing light level in the classroom was unnecessary. The number of lights on one switch was enough compared to twice the number of lights on two switches. Again Helena, our Sustainability Coordinator’s light meter helped the students to measure the light levels under one or two switch conditions. This analysis validated their assumption and helped the students to further reduce their carbon emissions on their Classroom’s Carbon Calculator. They extended their analysis to Principal Sparks’s office, which received plenty of light from the north-facing windows. Here the students reduced the light levels by disconnecting one light tube per light fixture since there was just one light switch. Next year, they will do this analysis for other classrooms and reduce the entire school’s carbon footprint.
- Educate, Engage and Enact: With so many good ideas with a small group of 12, the Cubs wanted to spread these ideas to the entire school and fulfill their roles as GREEN AMBASSADORS to their school, family and community. With the help of their community partner, INSPIRE Community Fine Art Center, the students embarked on their last project – a Poster Campaign to create awareness and instill green habits throughout the school. These posters became emblems for change for a better, healthier world.
- Besides these projects, the students were involved in the Slow Food initiative. This nonprofit organization helps the school maintain a garden on campus and provides instructors to teach the students science-infused lessons, many of them outdoors, every other week. Students gain an appreciation for food by learning where it comes from and how it gets to their tables, as well as the opportunity to sample fresh fruits and vegetables.
The LAMAR GREEN TIGERS were awarded second place in SAISD. They achieved the Bronze Award and a monetary amount from National Wildlife Federation Eco Schools USA to continue with their initiative the following year. They worked hard to achieve the title of “COOL SCHOOL!” – THE ONLY ONE IN TOWN.
Next year LAMAR GREEN TIGERS will focus on their energy pathway to achieve Silver Award and continue with the other initiatives already in practice.
As mentors, we learned more from these students than they learned from us. Watching them get so excited about their ideas and feeling the need to tell others about the school’s goals was an inspiring lesson – we were reintroduced to the power of one and the collective to bring change for all. Even though we all know what needs to be done each day as individuals and as a community, we can become complacent. If 8 year olds are concerned about their children’s future, shouldn’t we be concerned about them?