High school science teacher Michael Hotz has “been doing green things for years and years and years.” Ever since his school, Wyandotte High School in Kansas City, KS, became a Project Learning Tree GreenSchool, “we’ve been able to do so much more,” he says.
Growing Gardens–At School and Beyond
One of the first things that captured Hotz’ imagination when he came to the school more than a decade ago was its enclosed courtyard, which Wyandotte students have gradually transformed into a thriving garden spot. “Now we have 25 raised beds, more than 60 species of plants, an automatic watering system, a small pond used to teach water sampling techniques, and concrete paths-all constructed primarily by the students. It’s cost-effective labor – and they learn things. It’s amazing how enthusiastic they are,” said Hotz.
Hotz’ students raise vegetables and strawberries, which the students can take home to share with their families. “So many times, the kids don’t know where their food comes from. They’re amazed when they can pick a strawberry and eat it right off the plant,” Hotz said. Because Wyandotte’s student body represents 23 different ethnic groups, the gardens also include plants native to the students’ cultures.
Taking their gardening expertise beyond school grounds, Wyandotte students have worked with community members to transform vacant urban lots in their school’s Kansas City neighborhood into community gardens.
$100K in Energy Savings Help “Save the Teacher”
Because they study in a school building constructed long before energy efficiency was a widespread concern, the PLT GreenSchools Energy Investigation has been the springboard for many money- and energy-saving projects.
“Our students used the information they gathered from the Energy Investigation to launch a ‘Save the Teacher’ Campaign,” Hotz said. “Our school was faced with the threat of staff cuts due to budget shortfalls. The goal of the campaign was to save enough energy to make up the cost of one teacher’s salary.”
“We counted all the lights in the hallways and classrooms,” student Yehimi Robles explained. “We found that classrooms would have the lights on even if the sun was shining. Now, not many classrooms turn on all their lights. I’m glad we were able to make some changes.”
Those changes have made a big difference. Robles continued, “By analyzing energy use and implementing changes – like using the natural light admitted through our old school’s many windows, rather than turning on electric lights in classrooms – we were able to save $100,000, more than enough to meet our ‘Save the Teacher’ goal!”
PLT GreenWorks! Grant Helps Launch Recycling Program
A PLT GreenWorks! grant helped Wyandotte develop a highly successful school-wide recycling program that spilled over into many students’ homes. The grant helped the school purchase recycling bins to replace the cardboard boxes that had been used to haul recyclables to their pick-up point.
Thanks to better equipment and a solid commitment by everyone in the school, Wyandotte students recycled some 17,000 pounds of paper, plastic and aluminum in one year alone. “And they’re spreading the word at home,” Hotz said.
Hallmark Cards, whose corporate offices are in Kansas City, provided added inspiration. “We had a field trip to Hallmark and got a lot of great ideas from them,” Hotz said. “They have a ‘zero-landfill’ corporate model, and have two individuals who work full-time on their corporate recycling program. It was inspiring to the students to see what’s possible.”
“As much as we can, we’re trying to get the school and community involved in a dialogue about environmental issues that affect us all,” Hotz says. “PLT GreenSchools has helped us do so much.”