Environmental awareness permeates Lothrop Science and Technology Magnet School, a pre-K through fourth-grade school in Omaha, Nebraska. Its curriculum features a consistent, daily focus on reduction, reuse, and recycling, and all its environmental community service projects are student-designed and student-led in order to build “competence, confidence, and responsibility.”
Community service is a requirement for all students, and all service-learning projects have an environmental focus. Students work to resolve community problems, build outdoor classrooms, mentor other schools to develop environmental programs, and experiment with alternative pest control procedures. This school-wide commitment earned Lothrop Magnet Center a place in the 78-member inaugural class of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools in 2012.
The school reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by over one-third in one year by changing to energy-efficient bulbs. Students receive training to reduce water use and plant native species of vegetation on the school grounds. Classrooms have student “plumbers” and “electricians” assigned to monitor water and energy use, report leaks and wasteful practices, and recommend improvements.
Students at Lothrop take recycling a step further than just collecting and sorting recyclables. As they sort through the items they have collected, they discuss ways they could have prevented the things from being thrown away in the first place—for example, by using cloth instead of paper towels, or regular dishes instead of single-use paper or plastic plates. They are also creative in finding new uses for items usually thrown away. For example, they now collect juice boxes from six other schools, and use them to plant seeds in a sunflower research project with one of their community partners, the Lauritzen Gardens Botanical Center.
Lothrop students also have learned about vermicomposting—using worms to create rich composted soil—through school assemblies and science classes on worm biology. They have taken what they learned to the community, distributing worms and teaching the public about vermicomposting on Earth Day. This knowledge is put to good use, not only in the student-managed garden, but also in the community, where Lothrop students share their knowledge of green gardening and Earth-friendly pest management techniques with homeowners.