Students at Hancock Elementary school in Chandler collected more than 280 pounds of plastic bags to recycle over a period of just two weeks this fall. They’re hoping to save 1,000 pounds from turning up in landfills by the end of their task in March.
The project is just one of dozens of similar endeavors happening in Chandler schools every day, where teachers and students are channeling their energies into a variety of environmental issues, inside and outside the classroom.
“Green” activities are ongoing and gaining momentum at many levels — from district operations to extracurricular activities focusing on conservation and recycling. Each school has a goal to promote the importance of environmental conservation that includes a variety of specific actions staff and students can take to meet that goal.
From a facility standpoint, the district is considering more opportunities to create energy-efficient buildings, said spokesman Terry Locke.
The new CARE Center — a large community and classroom space to be located at Galveston Elementary School — is being designed to be a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design building, meaning it will meet a nationally accepted benchmark for operating high-performance green buildings. The district also tries to incorporate high SEER-rated mechanical units and energy-efficient lighting, Locke said.
In classrooms, the efforts to create environmental awareness start young, and while some of it is coming from instructors and the curriculum, teachers say much of it is derives from students increasingly aware of these issues. Teachers in more than a dozen elementary and junior high schools have students involved in a project, contest or fundraiser with the environment as its focus.
Sixth-grade students in Kristi Owsley’s class at Chandler Traditional Academy-Liberty School formed an Environmental Club last year and have organized a variety of activities since, focusing on recycling. This year, they took on the task of educating their classmates about the benefits of energy-efficient light bulbs and participated in a contest through Salt River Project that asked people to pledge to change bulbs in their homes to the more efficient variety.
“I think teaching young people about environmental issues is very important to our society,” Owsley said. “And, it’s in our sixth-grade curriculum to learn about the environment and conservation. So, I asked them what kind of project they wanted to work on and they responded that they wanted to help make the world a better place. They’re very aware of environmental issues.”
Diane Russhon, a sixth-grade teacher at Jacobson Elementary School in Chandler asked her students to look in newspapers and magazines, to watch television and listen to what people around them were discussing and then propose issues they would like to tackle. The majority of the topics they decided on are environmentally related.
Sixth-grader Molly Kigin said she didn’t know much about activism or the environment when she started.
“But it had bothered a lot of us that there was no recycling,” she said. “So, we thought we should start a program. There’s a saying, ‘Start local, think global.’ That’s what we are doing.”
She and her classmates formed a group called the Treehuggers, and their efforts reach beyond the schoolyard.
They send fliers home to parents reminding them to recycle at home and are working on a campaign this year asking parents to give their support to spending 15 cents more on plastic, recyclable milk bottles in the cafeteria, instead of using wax-coated cardboard cartons that aren’t recyclable.
Russhon said grappling with issues such as global warming can be overwhelming and a little scary for kids, but she believes it’s important to include environmental topics in her lessons.
“Some people think these are too big of problems for kids to think about,” Russhon said. “But, you get the right kid thinking about one thing and who knows what can happen?”