School communities take up climate change on their own | November 14, 2007 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


Cover Story - November 14, 2007

School communities take up climate change on their own

by David Boyce

California's official campaigns against global warming may be taking a hands-off approach to K-12 public school greenhouse gas emissions, but without much fanfare, local school communities are building their own bandwagons.

In the Las Lomitas Elementary School District, 20 parents have decided to challenge themselves to reduce their CO2 emissions at home and in daily life, district resident Karen Grove tells the Almanac.

Once a month, she says, this "Cool Campaign" group will look at their progress and pose themselves a new challenge based on a model developed by Acterra, the Palo Alto nonprofit.

Ms. Grove says that a similar project at Peninsula School in Menlo Park last year was "community building, educational, awareness-raising and a lot of fun."

Treena Joi, a sixth- and seventh-grade science teacher at Corte Madera Middle School in Portola Valley, wrote two greenhouse gas-related grants recently.

A $10,000 "A+ for Energy" grant from BP paid for kits and supplies to study fuel cells, while another $1,500 grant from National Wildlife Federation Community Action will go toward the purchase of some watt meters and a classroom set of the book, "Low Carbon Diet: a 30-Day Program to Lose 5,000 pounds." One project for the watt meters: measure what it takes to charge a cell phone.

Meanwhile at Portola Valley's Ormondale Elementary, third-graders have "audited" trash bins before and after lunch, and shared the results with the school. They are promoting "no-garbage" lunches and planning a "no-garbage" week, says teacher Deena Bertolina in an e-mail.

Ormondale students are avoiding bottled water and will be writing letters to Green Waste, the local waste hauler, to explore the possibility of a compost bin for biodegrading their hot-lunch containers, Ms. Bertolina says.

About 60 PTA parents from Woodside Elementary School met recently to "brainstorm what we see as a green school," says Dan Vinson, the superintendent and principal of the one-school district.

They met during the day in a community room, but used only the available light from outside. "It worked fine," Mr. Vinson says.

The group will be exploring options for solar panels on school roofs, a green-buddy program between older and younger students, making do with less light when possible, and talking with the food vender about using more recyclable containers, Mr. Vinson says.

High school efforts

At Woodside High School, the teachers and staff on the "Greenies" environmental task force have a mission: to reduce energy use, recycle and raise "awareness of the environmental consequences of choices we make at school," says science teacher Ann Akey.

The group has opportunities for students — a few students are members, Ms. Akey says — and parents are invited to join.

The topic of global warming is also "very popular" in senior essays, Ms. Akey says.

Students may be more active at Menlo-Atherton High, where the leadership class's environmental committee has been busy since its inauguration in September:

• Recycling bins are now in every classroom and are emptied every other Friday, says committee chair Anna Murveit.

• The committee sells reusable plastic bottles for $5 each to wean kids off bottled water. In California, 53 percent of the 7.8 billion plastic water and soda bottles sold annually are not recycled, says Department of Conservation spokesman Mark Oldfield.

• Students who ride bikes to school on the last Wednesday of the month are treated to a free breakfast of bagels and juice, paid for in part from the sale of the school's recycled waste.

Improbable as it may seem for seven students without independent financing, the committee has a goal of having solar power at M-A before the close of the 2008-09 school year.






Posted by Kay O'Neill, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 28, 2007 at 2:18 pm

Menlo Atherton High School diverted 80% of its waste from their annual fashion show luncheon. We composted most of our waste back into fertile soil by serving lunch in corn-based compostalbe dishes, cups and utensils. We recycled most of the waste sending five huge bags into compost, four into recycling and only two bags into bags of garbage into landfill. It was first for M-A to divert 80% of our luncheon (for a sold out crowd of 350) away from landfill.

Posted by registered user, David Boyce, a resident of Almanac staff writer
on Nov 28, 2007 at 4:16 pm

Ms. O'Neill - When you say that five bags of stuff went into compost, I'd like to know whose compost pile you're talking about. Is it a private one or the school's or did a waste hauler pick it up?

With compostable utensils and plates, and with typical paper products like napkins OK for a compost pile, what was left that went into the landfill?