It’s not every day you get to play in 25 pounds worth of trash but that’s exactly what the fifth grade students at Manchester School did on Tuesday, December 14. As a result of the efforts of fifth grade teacher Jennifer Ocean the school was recently awarded a $3,000 School Recycling Grant from ECO Maine to teach the students about environmental responsibility.
Katrina Vehnhuizen, environmental educator from ECO Maine, visited the school and provided a hands-on and “trashy” educational opportunity. Referred to as the trash audit, this interactive learning endeavor taught the students the difference between what is actual trash and what is not, by quite literally going through the garbage produced by the first school lunch hour.
Vehnhuizen began the trash audit session, first weighing, then discarding a full bag of rubbish on a huge blue tarp. With tongs and rubber gloves, the students were asked to separate the trash into four piles, 1. Actual trash. 2. Re-useable items such as Ziploc bags, 3. Recyclables such as milk cartons and 4. Compost. What initially began as 25 pounds of waste, when separated into appropriate piles, ended up being only 1 pound of real trash. The students quickly discovered how many unnecessary items are placed into landfills and thus the need to reduce the amount of solid waste disposal. The lesson also included the purpose behind recycling and composting.
“My class will be heading this project up in the cafeteria with the Garden Club teachers. We do not recycle or compost in the cafeteria, therefore, the amount of trash daily that is going into the landfill is copious compared to what it should be, as we learned from the trash audit,” Ocean stated about the project her fifth grade students are spear heading.
This educational unit, aptly named “Food for Thought and Talking Trash”, will report their findings to ECO Maine to make sure that they are in line with the grant expectations. These expectations include two progress reports and the ability to share their results with other schools for replication purposes. The monies allotted from the grant are dispersed in three ways. Eighty percent of the grant monies were distributed upon the initial award with 10 percent distributed upon a mid-term project and 10 percent upon completion of the final assignment.
“I talk a lot in my class about their generation’s responsibility to clean up the mess of other generations. The students know they have an important role in this school, community, state, and world and they want to start now,” Ocean explained. “It is our hope to continue to compost and recycle in the cafeteria, not only here at Manchester Elementary but within the whole district as well. We know that the composting will cost money, but it is the right thing to do. Overall, our most important job here as educators, is to help kids learn what is the right thing to do for the environment and people.”
Only a week into the project and the students are already learning aspects of environmental responsibility. “If we don’t recycle and compost in the cafeteria we would be wasting all the recyclables and spending all kinds of money to put it in the landfill,” fifth grade student, Thomas Davenport discovered.
Students also realize what it means to be good environmental stewards that, in time, can provide financial benefits. “This is important because we could potentially save money for the school and we could do more good for the Earth.” stated fifth grade student Rosario Lydon.
Ocean is very proud of her students’ excitement and involvement in this project. “When given the opportunity, they can really flourish in an environment that puts them responsible and in charge,” Ocean stated cheerfully. She also is very pleased with the encouragement she has received from her colleagues at Manchester School. “The support that administration and other educators have provided has been fantastic.”
The “Food for Thought and Talking Trash” unit will continue until the end of the year, sparking students to become environmentally responsible guardians for a better, healthier world.