Although attending a new school can be difficult, Margaret Karteron, parent of a 7th-grade student who attends Hughes Middle School in Bixby Knolls, says she was pleased that her son’s transition was quick and easy. Karteron says her son, Malik, fit in easily in the school’s Green Team program, where he could participate in environmental activities and build relationships.
“This school is so big, it’s the largest school in Long Beach for middle school,” she says. “It’s easy [for students] to get lost in the mix, and Green Team provided additional structure besides his classes where he could connect with people and make the transition successful for middle school. Not only did he become a student here, but he became [part of] a particular group and got some leadership roles to do things– in fact, he wound up going and speaking to the people at the City Council.”
The Green Team program is implemented in several schools to inspire students and staff to maintain a healthy environment with available resources and hands-on activities. Parents, students, staff and other members of the community work together to reduce waste, recycle, compost, conserve energy and prevent pollution.
Hughes Middle School and Longfellow Elementary School are known locally for that thriving program and recognized nationally by the U.S Department of Education as 2012 Green Ribbon Award winners.
On Sept. 17, the U.S Department of Education visited the two schools in an “Education Built-to-Last Facilities Best-Practices Tour,” which highlighted the achievements of the schools, as well as focused on how to strengthen the quality of environmental education. The tour, which lasted from 9am to 11am, began at Longfellow and ended at Hughes.
Longfellow Green Team parent advisor Heather Morrison led the tour at the elementary school, which showcased a bike cage, several labeled recycling bins, a “teaching garden” and a “secret garden.”
Students are encouraged to bike or walk to school as part of “Walk-to-School Wednesday” and recycle everything from pens and paper to organics. In addition, the school has found a way to incorporate composting and gardening in the environmental-science learning curriculum, having students interact and participate in the development of both gardens.
According to Morrison, Longfellow has diverted at least 105,000 pounds of waste since 2010, and it has donated 3,652 unused, leftover food items, such as yogurt and veggie snacks, to the Salvation Army from April 2012 to June 2013.
Both Longfellow and Hughes work with the Salvation Army and up-cycling company Terra Cycle to further their efforts in reducing environmental impact and to collect much needed supplies for the schools.
Showing an enthusiasm about the accomplishments they have made and the knowledge they have gained from taking part in the Green Team, a handful of students provided their expertise in biodiversity and ecosystems in the continuation of the tour at Hughes, which displayed 12 flourishing gardens.
One 8th grader, Mary-Kate Shary, says she has been a Green Team participant for three years. “I love [it]. It’s so much fun,” she said. “I’ve learned to recycle a lot more and how to reuse things to make some pretty cool stuff.”
The group hopes to continue their traditions and keep improving, as well as institutionalize what they’ve been doing. Hughes and Longfellow work together to create not only school-specific activities, but also monthly community events, such as used-clothing and book drives, document-shredding events and plant sales.
A main goal of the Green Team is motivating other schools to take action, despite limited resources.
“We have old buildings, lots of blacktop, overflowing populations, full classrooms and limited resources,” Morrison explained. “We don’t have LEED-certified buildings, large expanses of land to cultivate or the leniency that charter and private schools enjoy to plant whatever we want and create whatever programs we want…We were chosen because what we’re doing here, anyone anywhere can do. We’re here to tell you that any school, with some hard work and dedicated students and adults, can be a Green Ribbon school.”
Andrea Falken, director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Green Ribbon Schools program, also expressed her interest in expanding Green Team programs.
“The idea with the award and the tour is to spotlight their practices,” Falken said. “The resources they’re using are available on our [website] so that all schools can do what [Longfellow and Hughes] are doing– because it’s not that they’re innately rich, they’re just resourceful.”