Students and staff try to make every day ‘Earth Day’

Changing their WORLD for the better

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“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtfully committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”This quote by Margaret Mead is exemplified by several educators, staff members and students in local schools, who show that every day can be Earth Day, not just April 22.

These environmental advocates can often be found going through the trash at their schools to make sure recycling hasn’t been tossed in the wrong bins. They educate their fellow students and co-workers about Earth-friendliness, pick up litter, start composting and Green Schools programs, and plant gardens.

Sometimes, all it takes is one person, or a simple act, to begin making a positive difference. For Earth Day, the Post-Record has chosen to feature a few of these people and programs.

Skyridge Middle School

Christened, “The Recycling Princess,” complete with a wand, Skyridge Middle School teacher Ann Hofmann is the go-to person if anyone needs unusual items for a project.

“As you can see, I have way more stuff in here than any one person should have,” she joked, looking around her classroom. “It’s because I hate to throw things away when you can reuse them for something else.”

She is a self-described “granola” who lives in a log cabin and generates so little garbage she doesn’t need trash service.

“I can thank my parents for this,” Hofmann said. “My dad was a park ranger and as a kid, I can remember him and people he worked with picking up trash. We always recycled to the extent we could, and composted. Everything we ate, we knew where it came from.”

In the summer of 2007, she and fellow teachers Star Moran and Gayle Cooper began the Green Schools program at Skyridge. They did a trash audit, which involved going through all of the garbage and determining how much was being thrown away that could be recycled. They also challenged fellow teachers to see who could generate the least amount of trash.

“We live in such a beautiful place,” she said. “We only get one Earth, and doing the right thing by recycling is a learned behavior.”

From those small beginnings, the effort at Skyridge has grown to become one of the premier programs in Clark County, earning Level II Washington Green Schools status. Reaching that benchmark acknowledges that the school met its goals to reduce trash and recycle, and is now making strides to conserve energy throughout the building. Skyridge expects to earn level three status soon.

Eighth-graders Sidney Greenamyer and Kaelene Barlow are members of the Green Team, a group of students helping to keep the efforts to recycle and reduce energy consumption going.

“We have one of the best recycling programs around, but people don’t always make use of it,” Greenamyer said. “It’s important because if you start recycling when you’re a kid, you will teach your children to do it as well.”

Barlow joined the Green Team after she heard about the need for more members.

“I started making cardboard posters to let students know how to recycle properly because when I looked in the garbage, there were salads being thrown away,” she said. “We’re trying our best to get that corrected. We need to do better than people just tossing everything into the trash.”

Assisting them in their efforts is custodian Vickie Siehl, who spends at least 30 minutes a day going through the lunch garbage and recycling to make sure things are in the right location.

“I spend a lot of time just sorting,” she said. “We’re a Green School, we get the credit for it so we should be doing it. And it makes me crazy when it’s not done right.”

Grass Valley Elementary

If you ask a student at Grass Valley what makes their school special, they may tell you that it is a Green School.

First-grade teacher Julie Della Valle is someone who helps this happen, and Clark County Environmental Services agrees.

The organization recently honored her with the “Make Every Day Earth Day” award.

Della Valle has initiated and managed many activities designed to get students and adults focused on the environment, such as the Eco Officers Club, a school-wide Earth Day celebration, and the accomplishment of being a Level II Washington Green School.

The Eco Officers club is comprised of students, with Della Valle hosting weekly meetings to help guide them in their efforts to reduce Grass Valley’s trash output and increase recycling.

The students conduct classroom trash audits and award their peers for their efforts. Eco Officers also teach other students how to decrease trash production and increase their recycling and reusing habits.

“What we have found is that the adults in our building and parents at home are learning right along with the kids,” said Patricia Erdmann, Grass Valley principal.

An example of the community coming together in this recycling effort is the Bottle Cap Drive that Della Valle brought to Grass Valley.

In cooperation with a local business, Grass Valley students are collecting thousands of threaded bottle caps that would otherwise end up in landfills. The Eco Officers spend hours collecting and sorting the bottle caps (which are recyclable, but need to be separated from the plastic bottles) to help with this effort.

For the past seven years, Della Valle has organized an annual, school-wide Earth Day celebration. Each year, students design and make their own flag to decorate the school. They also host a school-wide garden and grounds cleanup.

“I am the daughter of two parents who grew up during the Depression and my family learned through practice and necessity how to be resourceful,” she said. “I think that transferred to my teaching. I have enjoyed integrating education and the environment for years.”

Washougal High School

When Cassie Holcombe discovered that Washougal High School was far behind other Clark County schools when it came to recycling, she decided to make a change. It became the basis of her senior project, Save Our Scraps.

“I want to leave the school with something lasting,” she said. “And I wanted to educate people on what their decisions mean. I basically want people to learn to compost more.”

Until her project, WHS recycling efforts were limited to bottles and paper.

“I’ve always recycled at home,” Holcombe said. “I think a lot of people don’t realize the impact our behavior has on the environment. If they think about their actions, they could really make a difference.”

There are now several sets of new bins positioned in the commons area. Each set of bins features four receptacles that hold milk cartons, trash that can’t be recycled (shiny paper), food and paper (compostable); and plastic bottles and aluminum cans.

Holcombe has been composting with worms at home and plans to earn her Master Composter certificate. She’s also helped the cafeteria switch from Styrofoam to paper plates. In the future, she would like to provide the school’s cooking classes with a small set of bins and add bins in the school’s bathrooms for paper towels.

“I am really passionate about the environment,” Holcombe said. “More education is definitely needed here in regard to recycling.”

Hathaway Elementary School

At Hathaway Elementary, lunchtime has the usual hum and buzz of a busy cafeteria. One big difference at this school though, is its recycling program.

Two years ago, in an effort to begin a Green Team, the school picked up its recycling efforts, particularly during lunchtime, when the most trash tends to be generated.

“The kids are really good about sorting their garbage,” said Laura Bolt, principal. “And it has really impacted our trash pickup.”

Bolt said the amount of trash generated by the school has decreased substantially in the past two years.

“I go searching through the garbage with tongs after lunch to make sure it is sorted properly,” she said. “Different grade levels tend to do better than others, but overall, they do a great job and it is really neat to see the kids recycling.”

Third-graders Jocelyn Bowman, Joseph Berry and Blake Scott, and second-grader Caroline Collins, take recycling very seriously.

“It’s important because we want our school to be nice and we want to be good to the earth,” Bowman said.

Scott recalled when he and his grandpa spent time picking up garbage from a beach last summer, there was enough to fill a dumpster.

“I sent a letter to [President]Barack Obama, and I got one back,” he said. “I think recycling and picking up trash is important because how would you like it if the Earth was one big mound of garbage? It is best to do your part.”

Cape Horn-Skye Elementary and Canyon Creek Middle schools

When asked to recommend someone at her school who is Earth friendly, Cape Horn-Skye Principal Mary Lou Woody didn’t have to ponder long.

“That person would be Chelsea Meats (fifth-grade teacher). She does an after-school science club with nature walks, water quality testing and archeological exploration lessons.”

The Science and Travel Club meets every third Friday of the month.

Its members discuss topics ranging from the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone Park, to biofilm, fungus and indigenous rocks.

In addition, six students have signed up to participate in a six-day summer trip Meats is taking to Yellowstone to study the area.

In the classroom, Meats keeps students busy researching local pollinators and growing various flowers that will be planted outside the school to provide habitat for them.

“She is very much a ‘save the world’ kind of person,” Woody said. “She talks the talk, and she walks the walk.”

Canyon Creek Middle School, which is next door to Cape Horn-Skye, has also joined the “green” efforts. In Pete Forgey’s eighth-grade class, several students are doing projects on endangered salmon and one is volunteering at Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Another is volunteering at a salmon hatchery.

In addition, both schools are helping drivers become more environmentally aware with “no idling” signs posted at the front of the building, where parents would typically wait to pickup their students. This helps reduce vehicle emissions.