Our Journey to Becoming an Eco-School
Lanier’s start with Eco-Schools USA began with a challenge. After a successful reading competition against Crockett High School to increase literacy on campus and get students reading more, two of our Biology teachers wondered, could we use a similar challenge to help make our school more eco- friendly?
Every year after STAAR testing, the biology students do a recycling project with items used during testing, such as water bottles and cardboard boxes. Students use the recycled materials to create sculptures and items that relate to concepts they have learned throughout the year in biology. The students always have a great time while learning about conservation.
Next, our biology teachers proposed a new match with Crockett High School, but this time a recycling challenge. Teachers and members of the Green Teens’ Environmental Club joined the challenge, working to motivate students school-wide to increase their recycling efforts.
Luckily, every month the school district weighs the recycling dumpster, so we were easily able to track the number of pounds collected. At this point, we had never heard of Eco-Schools USA, but after attending a Professional Development workshop in October, we realized that the recycling challenge was a good starting point to help Lanier become a more eco-friendly campus.
Taking the First Steps
In January 2016, Lanier held its 1st Eco-Action Team Meeting. It consisted of about 30 Lanier students and 10 members that were teachers, staff or community members. During the subsequent meetings we have had representatives from multiple school groups and organizations, as well as groups from the community including our City Council Representative’s office, neighborhood community groups, Keep Austin Beautiful and Austin Youth River Watch.
We agreed that for our first year we would aim for a Bronze Level in Consumption and Waste. We continued to encourage recycling, and we slowly started to add in composting with the help of the Agriculture Dept. Some initial challenges included getting kids motivated to care, educating the campus on what could be recycled and what couldn’t, getting students and staff to remember to recycle, and not overwhelming the custodian staff.
The Recycling Rangers were then created to help the students and custodians. Every Friday, during the last 20 minutes of lunch, the team goes around the cafeteria and courtyards to collect recyclables and compost. The compost is used by our agriculture department in our school/community garden to help keep the plants fertilized to provide shelter and food for wildlife. The Recycling Rangers teach other students the rules of recycling and offer incentives to those who recycle.
The Eco Action Team also organized a Community Clean Up to clean up the environment, give back to the community, increase public awareness for recycling, and help bring the community together. A major effort was put into the promotion of the event, with the Green Teens and the Austin Youth River Watchers working together to create and distribute posters in the local neighborhoods. We advertised the clean up during school announcements and in other community forums. Our School Improvement Facilitator also arranged a Green Themed Family Fun Night several weeks before the Clean Up which was great for getting the word out and signing up volunteers.
The clean-up was a huge success! We had 63 people attend from 4 different schools and from all parts of Austin. They helped us clean approximately 6 miles of neighborhood streets and creek banks in the community, picking up 55 bags of waste. Our City Council Representative, Greg Casar came and gave a pep talk to the volunteers, and our School Board of Trustees’ Representative, Ann Teich was a volunteer!
We are ending the 1st year in our journey towards an Eco-Schools Bronze award on so many high notes. Our school officially won the 6 month long Recycling Challenge against Crockett High School! Lanier recycled 29,018 pounds of materials compared to their 18,440 pounds. We celebrated on Earth Day with ice cream for the entire school along with a Recycling-Trashketball Free Throw game in the library. We finished the celebrations by making an Earth Day Pledge Tree. Texas Disposal Services also interviewed two Lanier students for an Earth Day video which was shown during a minor league baseball game on Earth Day.
We will be meeting in May for our final Eco-Action Team meeting of this year. We will be debriefing and deciding where we want to go from here so we can start planning for next year. Overall we feel incredibly accomplished and exhausted. We can’t wait to see what next year brings!
This guest blog post was written with help from Rosa (Cheli), Rosa, Cinthia, and Dulce