"Experiential Learning Develops Passion & Changes Habits"
North Oakland Community Charter School
School Contact Information
Carolyn Gramstorff, Administrator firstname.lastname@example.org North Oakland Community Charter School, Oakland Combined (K-8), Charter Under 500 Students
Raissa Lerner and Julene Cirne Lima - parent volunteers at NOCCS and part of the Green Team.
The Green School Story
We addressed these 4 Pillars of a Green School
- Strive to be Toxics Free
- Use Resources Sustainably
- Create Green Schoolyards and Serve Healthy Food
- Teach Stewardship & Student Action
We have taken these steps from the 7 Steps to a Green School
- Establish a green team
- Integrate into the curriculum
- Involve, inform, and celebrate with the community
Environmental Challenge or Goal Addressed
Our green team decided initially that our first priority should be to try to create a zero waste school, so we’ve focused on that over the past two years. The first year, we educated students about recycling. The teachers got involved by integrating recycling themes into the curriculum, and the older students participated by creating songs and skits that reinforce these themes. The students presented the songs and skits to the rest of the school during all-school meetings and events. All of the students were also taught to use the new recycling system in their classrooms.
Our Green School Approach
This past year, we realized that the zero-waste challenge was presenting itself most consistently in the lunch room. We really needed a more user friendly waste sorting system to ensure that lunch waste items were recycled or composted to the greatest extent possible. We obtained funds for new bins, and students created colorful and informative signs for the bins to help educate everyone about proper sorting of waste, recyclables, and compostables.
Since the students are often rushed out when the lunch period is over, they sometimes place things in the wrong bins. It is an ongoing challenge to get to 100% accuracy. Going forward, our goal is to improve signage and help students prioritize waste reduction so they can teach each other about proper sorting.
We organized a Green Team of parents who were passionate about different issues, and then involved the school board, teachers, and staff who were also excited to green our school. We worked together to identify funding options through grants and “green” fundraisers. We were able to obtain lunchroom bins, gardening supplies and assemblies, and solar panels for our energy conservation project.
By including many people from within the school community, we were able to tackle many different projects for our Zero Waste Challenge. Projects included:
• Obtaining proper bins in the lunch room for recyclables and composting and instructing students how to use them.
• Holding green fundraisers including the Wrapper Brigade through Terracycle, ink jet and cell phone recycling, plastic bag collection, and selling student-made cleansers during our Earth Day celebration.
• Contracting with a hot lunch program that strives for zero-waste, healthy lunch options. Last year we contracted with Children’s Choice, but due to the high costs we switched to Revolution Foods this year. In both cases, part of our decision making included using a criteria that included nutritious, healthy, organic, free-range, and use of low-waste serving components.
• Integrating recycling, composting and zero-waste concepts into skits, songs and all-school announcements at Wednesday morning assemblies.
• Promoting waste free lunch supplies by having a supplier on site to sell items.
• Incorporating reusable plates for snacks in our after school program as well at our school events where food is served.
• Replacing single use wipes with non-toxic alternatives in the classrooms.
• Creating an annual Earth Day event that teaches environmental themes through an experiential learning model.
• Creating a school garden to grow flowers and vegetables and integrating gardening and composting into the school and afterschool curriculum.
• Completing the Cool The Earth program
Our school is making a difference because we are raising a generation of youth who have an increased awareness of their impact on the earth’s resources. They are establishing lifelong habits of conservation that they can take with them into the community.
Changes and Benefits We've Achieved
We have definitely changed student habits by promoting waste reduction. We have not quite achieved zero waste, but we still strive for that. Our annual Earth Day event has been a huge success and has been instrumental in raising awareness about the environment and what our school community can do to reduce our impact. Things that the kids learn during Earth Day have reverberations throughout the year. We set up different activities in every classroom, and the kids rotate rooms every 20 minutes.
Some of the activities included a visit with Betty Biodiesel and her bus, a chance for kids to make eco-friendly cleaning products, a lesson on how to manage a compost bin, a recycling relay race, a gardening show and tell, sustainable story-telling, and an art workshop for making art out of recycled materials. We also show videos, which are always very popular. On surveys, the kids gave high ratings to both “The Riddle” a video about the water cycle by Sisbro Studios and Annie Leonard’s “The Story of Stuff.”
Everyone has done something to make our school greener, including parent volunteers, school board members, administration, staff, and students. Because we are a "mission driven" school, we tend to attract families and staff who are looking for a school community that really reflects their own values, including our values of green living and sustainability.
One of our charter school's guiding principles is that of "family involvement", so we have a strong culture and ethic of folks who are able to really come in, identify a need, and apply their skills and resources to enrich the community.
How We Involved Students
In addition to the environmental education which is included in the curriculum, students have the opportunity to participate in experiential learning. They are involved in the gardening program and studied our watershed last semester where they learned about the impacts on our local creeks and what they can do to protect them. Students also study the rainforest and its connection to our lives.
To increase student engagement, the Green Team also brought the Cool the Earth program to the School, and involved the older students in administering this program. Cool the Earth is a ready-to-run program that educates K-8 students and their families about global warming and inspires them to take simple actions to reduce their carbon emissions.
Our Timeline for Change
The last 2 years, from 2007 - 2009.
Resources We Used
Our Inspiration and Motivation
It is the passion of other parent volunteers that has kept me motivated, and we need more of them! I am hoping to have more opportunities to meet with other parents in the community who would like to take a lead on projects.
The team at NOOCS is very active and continues to identify issues and raise environmental awareness for the whole school community. Our efforts have reduced costs, improved our school environment, and made our students better stewards of the planet.
With several new systems in place, such as the solar panels, new gardening program, and waste management bins in the lunchroom, our ongoing challenge for the coming year will be to make sure we are using these great resources to the maximum extent possible. One approach that might help us maximize and focus our efforts is to bring everyone working on green initiatives together to create a Green Team plan for 2010 and set sustainability goals for our school.
As a charter school, we are given greater autonomy than public schools in terms of how we set up our curriculum and instruction, so we can be more innovative in our approaches. That said, charter schools are also intended to serve as models for all public schools in terms of innovative practices. Public schools can achieve all this and more if there is the will and mandate of the community to do so.
NOCCS also plans to focus on integrating our environmental education and gardening curriculum into a service-learning program, whereby we hope to spread environmentally-friendly practices to our local neighborhood community.
We have set up 3 composting bins in our local public neighborhood park. Neighbors are welcome to put food scraps, dead leaves and saw dust into these bins, and many folks do! Our students are making compost in 5 bins total, and they spread our rich, home-made compost in our vegetable beds and pollinator garden.
In 2008, our 2nd and 3rd graders created a pollinator garden in a corner of our parking lot. This garden has been certified as an "Urban Wildlife Habitiat" by National Wildlife Federation, and regularly attracts bees, butterflies and hummingbirds into our inner-city neighborhood.
Our Advice to Other Schools
Right now, many of our green initiatives are organized by parent volunteers. Since most of the parent volunteers work, they aren’t able to be there helping to move things forward day to day. Having someone onsite to manage things is key. We are very lucky to have a gardening teacher who is onsite at the school every day and can help manage things. The gardening teacher has helped to implement our compost program and continues to teach students about the proper sorting of waste at lunch.
Our school is also fortunate to have so many talented, caring teachers that take the time to develop environmental curriculum and teach students the value of our planet and our place in the ecosystem.
One of our challenges going forward will be to figure out how to increase the number of people moving green school initiatives forward, in order to ensure that these great successes don’t become things of the past. Our active parent volunteers won’t be part of our school community once their children have graduated. Due to limited funding and staffing everyone is being asked to take on many roles, leaving them burnt out and unable to take on new projects.
Our challenge as concerned parents is to widen our net to identify and motivate more passionate parent volunteers, build greater buy-in with all stakeholders, find low-cost ways to implement changes, and develop focus in our efforts.