For the past five years, students, teachers and parents at Bluejacket-Flint Elementary School have busily picked over trash, composted with worms, built a rain garden and searched for ways to make more efficient use of Earth’s resources.
By ROXIE HAMMILL
Special to The Star
On Monday, they were recognized by a Kansas nonprofit group and the U.S. Department of Education as one of the greenest schools in Kansas and the nation.
Bluejacket-Flint was named Kansas Green School of the Year by the Kansas Association for Conservation and Environmental Education, a nonprofit group dedicated to promoting high-quality science-based environmental education. The school also received word that it has been named a Green Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education.
Bluejacket-Flint is one 64 schools to be honored by the federal government and the only one in Kansas. No Missouri schools made the list of Green Ribbon Schools.
The nonprofit named two Kansas schools Green Schools of the year. The other is St. John Catholic School in Lawrence.
“While it’s difficult to change society overnight, you’ll grow up and remember what you learned here and take those lessons forward,” said John Mitchell, environment director for the Kansas Department of Health and the Environment at a special awards ceremony at the school.
The students celebrated with singing and a humorous presentation from four past student members of the “Green Team” who now are seventh-graders at Hocker Grove Middle School. The school also gave out 600 trees for students and staff to plant at their homes as a remembrance of the awards.
The school embarked on five years of intensive environmental study in 2008, the first leg being a “waste audit” of everything the school was throwing away, said Lucas Shivers, sixth-grade teacher and leader of the after-school environmental club.
A waste audit means going through all the trash to see what is thrown away that could be recycled, he said. They found 42 percent of their trash could have been recycled or composted.
After that, the school started to zero in on recycling more materials. The next year, students focused on composting. They set up outdoor compost tumblers with temperature sensors and have used them to gather data for science experiments, Shivers said. The school also started a worm compost bin in the sixth-grade hallway.
Perhaps the biggest project was in 2010-11, when students and parent volunteers installed a rain garden landscaped with plants that would not need irrigation. The volunteers spent a weekend work day putting 600 plants into a former retaining pond. “It took a lot of digging,” Shivers said.
Students also have studied green technologies like solar and wind power and have done toy drives and service projects for groups like Harvesters and the City Union Mission, Shivers said.
The activities have been led by students in the fourth, fifth and sixth grades, “but the program touches every grade,” he said. Shivers estimated that more than 250 students have been involved in the after-school program over the years. The school has about 470 students.
The state and federal agencies were impressed with the results of all that hard work, said Laura Downey, executive director of the Kansas environmental education nonprofit. The association liked the way the school tracked its impact on cost and energy savings and the fact that science lessons were tied in so well, she said.
The school was able to reduce energy usage 52 percent and cut its energy costs 29 percent over the first year, according to the federal announcement. The U.S. Department of Education also said the students, more than half of whom are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, devoted more than 150 collective service hours to the environmental causes. The school recycled more than 125 tons of paper and other material since 2008 and received more than $45,000 in grants for the project, working with 30 local and national partners, the department said.
In the process, the students also improved their science test scores, the department said.
Sisters Amanda and Caroline Colburn were two of this year’s sixth-graders on the green team. They especially enjoyed all the planting and digging they’ve done in the effort. “It’s amazing how far the school has come, from barely recycling anything to green school of the year,” Amanda said.
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