We’re proud to work for a school district in suburban Owasso, Oklahoma, that places a high value on environmental education. Even so, the PLT GreenSchools program at the Owasso 7th Grade Center is considered an extracurricular activity, rather than part of our school’s curriculum. Therefore, we have to tailor our GreenSchools Investigations so that they fit into occasional 30-minute Green Team meetings held before and after the regular school day. Keeping our work focused is extra challenging because the Green Team includes anywhere from 60 to 120 students at any given time, and different students participate in the morning and afterschool sessions.
However, we haven’t let those challenges stop us! Our seventh-graders have accomplished great things since we started with the PLT GreenSchools program. While we haven’t been able to complete entire Investigations like other schools where Green Team activities are part of the regular school day, we’ve made major strides in making our school greener using activities from the School Site, Energy, and Waste and Recycling Investigations.
If you face similar challenges in your school, we hope you’ll be inspired by what can be accomplished with PLT GreenSchools in just a small amount of time.
Action and Results
School Site Investigation
We have a large school campus that everyone uses, so the School Site Investigation was a logical place to start our first Green Team effort. Once our students completed the investigation and made their recommendations, we applied for a grant from Project Learning Tree to fund the Green Team’s action projects. Money from the grant helped us develop several outdoor classroom areas and purchase 18 concrete benches, a table, and two rain barrels.
While the school campus has many trees, we wanted to plant more. The Green Team worked with the school’s custodian, Brenda Reed, who helped connect us with Up With Trees, a Tulsa area nonprofit dedicated to protecting the region’s urban forest. They helped us obtain and plant 60 new trees on the campus. Lowe’s and Home Depot also helped with various projects, providing bird feeders, mulch, and a large auger to dig holes for planting the new trees. Our Green Team is now working with teachers to encourage each classroom to adopt and care for one of the newly planted trees.
Some of the money from our grant went to purchase 16 kilowatt meters and light meters so the Green Team could investigate our school’s energy use. They looked at everything: the energy being used to run computers, the library’s laminator, which turned out to be a real energy hog, and the electricity we were using to light our classrooms and cafeteria.
The students discovered that by using natural light, our classroom energy use could be halved. They recommended leaving one of the two light switches in each classroom turned off. They also instituted “moonlight lunches” in the cafeteria, when students eat by natural light, installed timers on all the school’s copiers to automatically turn them off when not in use, and recommended keeping the laminator turned off except when it was needed. Thanks to their efforts, we are now the number one school in our district for energy conservation.
Waste and Recycling Investigation
When new telephone directories started arriving on doorsteps in our community, it got our students thinking that almost no one uses phone books to look up numbers any more. They held a contest, with assistance from several local businesses, to see which classroom could collect the most phone books for recycling. Thanks to their efforts, we have been able to recycle 1,800 unwanted books—books that otherwise might have ended up in the landfill.
The Green Team also initiated a partnership with the Metropolitan Environmental Trust (“The MET”), a local nonprofit that supports community recycling projects. Our students saw a big problem with trash, particularly water bottles, on our community’s sports fields. Now these and other non-glass recyclables are collected in two “Mr. Murph” bins provided by The MET and installed on campus. One of these bins is available for community members to deposit household recyclables, and has become so popular that it needs to be emptied nearly every day.
Every time a bin is emptied, it earns the Green Team $5 to support their activities; in 2012, the team earned $300. Instead of paying to have our trash taken away, we’re now getting paid for it. Our students’ efforts to dramatically reduce the amount of waste our school sends to the dump earned them The MET’s 2012 Oklahoma Recycling School Award.
In the cafeteria, the GreenTeam requested that their meals be served on recyclable dinnerware. Everything except the food is now recycled, and even some of the food is not wasted. Leftover fruits and vegetables are often used to feed classroom pets, and other food waste is composted for the school gardens.
Tips for Teachers
- Use your limited meeting time as an opportunity for Green Team members to check in, plan, organize, and agree on next steps.
That way, students can take the lead in implementing projects on their own schedule, whenever they have the time.
- Set achievable goals.
Rather than taking on an entire Investigation, which may be difficult to complete in limited time, tackle one piece at a time. Celebrate each milestone for the progress it represents.
- Look for resources beyond your school’s teaching staff.
Our school custodian turned out to be a terrific gardener who was able to connect us to a community organization that helped us acquire 60 new trees for our campus. She came in to water the newly planted trees during her summer vacation. Your school’s staff probably has similar people who can pitch in.
- Use local businesses and community organizations to supplement limited staff resources.
We would never have been able to accomplish so much without the involvement of partners like Lowe’s, Home Depot, and the Metropolitan Environmental Trust. Get students engaged in brainstorming potential partners—and then let them take the lead in asking for their help.
- Remember the old saying that “many hands make light work”?
Get the whole school involved in generating buzz about—and implementing—your projects. We’ve made our Green Team activities a regular part of our school’s daily announcements over the intercom. We’ve also been able to recruit new Green Team members using a five-minute video produced by our school’s Drama Club.
- Recognize staff and student efforts with simple “Green Awards”.
We rewarded one of our administrative assistants for her recycling efforts in the office, and our Spanish teacher for encouraging students in the cafeteria. Students who faithfully help carry out the recycling bags have received “Green Awards,” as well.
- Create a demand for recycled items.
Our students ordered Green Team shirts and sought out a vendor that would print their logo on “eco-shirts” that are made partially from recycled bottles. The shirts look great and students are proud to make an environmental statement each time they wear them. The shirts cost a little more, but our recycling profits offset the cost. The more demand we create for recycled products, the stronger the recycling business will become!