White Plains Church St elementary school was chosen this year as the proud recipient of the coveted Nina Chin Green Writing Grant. Students of grade 3 through grade 5 were invited to voluntarily write an essay on how they personally can make a difference in this world.
Nina Chin was a lifelong educator and she believed that writing is the key to being a better reader and a better person. Every year she sponsored from her own money a writing contest among her students. Upon her passing, her children decided to carry on this lovely tradition and have sponsored one school in Westchester every year.
Over 50 students rose to the challenge and Myra Castillo, Principal, is holding proudly the stacks of essays from her students.
These essays are right now on the desk of two retired teachers that are “judging” them. Ten students will be proud winners of a nice envelope for their work. We cannot wait until the celebration, that is soon to come. Watch this space!
Students from K through 2nd Grade are carefully walking the blue classroom compost pail to the school courtyard that houses a lovely learning garden, a greenhouse with the first projects budding and a nice compost tumbler.
Church St Elementary School adopted the We Future Cycle recycling program in October of 2015 and has decreased its lunchroom waste by a whopping 98%, sorting out all recyclable and compostable materials. In the classrooms the students are diligently sorting out all paper and commingled into the correct bins, leaving very little for the trash can.
Now, under the leadership of Principal Castillo and Assistant Principal Jackson, the school is solving another problem. Mid morning snack!
Students were presented with common snack packaging materials and asked if they thought it was healthy for them. They all knew that chips, cookies, caramelized popcorn and traditionally single served packaged snacks were not healthy for them. One child explained to me: ” Chips are not food, they are just snack”
We Future Cycle presenters went into all kindergarten through 2nd grade classes and helped students make a very important connection. We eat to stay healthy, the foods we eat should be healthy to keep our body healthy, and foods that come directly from the Earth are healthy and naturally without packaging material. Church St students realized that their choice of snack can help their body and their Earth to stay healthy.
Students that bring their snack in reusable containers and are waste free receive a paper leaf, write their name on it, and then paste it to the Waste Free Tree outside the cafeteria. Check out this leaf sprouting tree!
Healthy food waste will make Church St’s garden grow. Two green children from each class are carefully placing all apple cores and banana peels into the composter and over time get to see close up the wonders of decomposition.
The success of source separating lunchrooms and teaching students about sustainable practices depends immensely on partnership with food service. The equation is easy, what goes in, must come back out. If food service sends many single serve packaging into the lunchroom, it makes sorting very difficult, potentially contaminating the food waste with plastic and ending up in the trash (or on the floor).
Have you ever tried peeling a sticky opened ketchup pouch off a tray? Not a pretty picture.
Ed Marra, Director of Food Service for the White Plains City School District, is a fabulous team player who took the We Future Cycle recycling program as chance to educate all his staff in sustainable practices. While only two of White Plains schools are piloting the program right now, Mr Marra knew that all school employees can benefit from this kind of education.
He invited Anna Giordano to the Superintendents Training Day at White Plains High School to educate the staff not only about how the program works and what the children are learning, but going the extra mile to outline the environmental and social foot print each material has.
Cafeteria Manager Sadie Tatum shared that she had no idea that Aluminum foil comes from strip mining the rain forest and she has immediately stopped using aluminum foil in her cafeteria and her home. Ms Tatum and her team excitedly set up their kitchen to follow the same sorting guidelines and all are stunned to see that at the end of a day, they had less then a quarter office size bin as trash. All food, packaging and soft plastic was sorted out to be composted and recycled, and the only trash was gloves and dirty soft plastics.
“It is not hard, no big deal at all to sort”, Ms Tatum said when asked on how the system affected her normal day.
Mr. Marra actively supports the program by eliminating most single serve packaging, replacing them with squeeze bottles and dispensers. He also affected the change that bagel condiments were made “by choice” items and not just placed on the tray of the children, whether they wanted the creme cheese or not.
These kinds of adjustments are often met with resistance. Arguments against replacing single serve ketchup pouches are that it is too much work to refill the squeeze bottles, or the students would take too much. However in White Plains, thanks to Mr Marra’s decisive leadership and the training, the transition was flawless and it allowed Church St Elementary School to become a new Zero Waste Facility with less then 1.7% of trash, or only 3 lbs (!!!) of trash coming out of a lunchroom with 800 students.
White Plains Church St Elementary School under the leadership of Principal Myra Castillo and Assistant Principal Merle Jackson have reached nearly Zero Waste with only 3 lbs of trash from nearly 700 students in the lunchroom. Outstanding!
Ms Castillo knew that this program can only work if all departments work together for a common goal. She allowed time for food service, facilities, teachers and teachers aids to be trained on why the We Future Cycle recycling program is so valuable for the social development of the students.
And both Ms Castillo and Ms Jackson are putting their money where their mouth is and are actively participating in teaching the students on how to sort.
The system is easy. First the students empty their left over liquids into the bucket, sorting the container into either milk cartons or commingled, then all remaining plastic is sorted into commingled, all food waste and paper products are dumped into compost and the tray is stacked neatly. Done.
Church St had a whopping 76 lbs of excess liquid, a large bag of commingled, 2 large bags of milk cartons, 75.5 lbs of compostable material and only 3 lbs of trash, that is 1.7%. Nearly Zero Waste!
6 students helped with the weighing and counting. Thank you
Only the students that bring lunch from home in disposable packaging are contributing to trash. Non recyclable are chip bags, drink pouches, soft plastic wrappers, sandwich baggies, go go squeeze packaging and things along those lines. Next steps will be to actively involve parents to be part of the zero waste solution.
A huge shout out to Head Custodian Jody Raynor, whose support in this program is invaluable. He is being called ” Mr Smiles” by the students. Trust me, I am not making this up. He does smile all the time, while helping the students to sort. Truly WAY TO GO!
Church St Elementary School is a prime example on how support by all departments can lead to something as fabulous as nearly zero waste.