Green Team Keeps Growing

At the beginning of the 2019-20 academic year, the Appalachian State University Academy at Middle Fork’s Green Team received a $2,800 JustPax Fund (JPF) mini-grant through the Reich College of Education’s (RCOE) Sustainability Committee to help fund sustainable practices and projects. 

The Green Team coordinates sustainability efforts at the Academy and is chaired by kindergarten teacher Matt Hamm, whose enthusiasm for recycling and sustainability has extended to the whole school. 

“At first, I was hesitant about creating such a large and daunting program,” said Hamm. “Asking people to switch their mindset seems easy enough, but to have people actually shift their mindset and take on something new is its own undertaking.” 

Other members are Vanessa Adams (teacher assistant), Marla Cantrell (first-grade teacher), Carla Clayton (media specialist), Melah Cox (nurse), Tasha Hall-Powell (principal), Monique Johnson (fifth-grade teacher), Abby Kirkman (teacher assistant), Brent Maccrow (second-grade teacher), Tilah McDowell (teacher assistant), Robin Phelps (health/PE/fitness teacher), Bernadette Sexton (teacher assistant), Dr. Amie Snow (director of curriculum and instruction), and Kori Trainor (second-grade teacher).

To meet one of the Academy's key commitments of "amplifying sustainability," the Green Team used the mini-grant funds to implement a zero-waste initiative and construct a greenhouse to “offer students a hands-on experience for learning the life cycle of plants,” said Hamm.

As the chair of the Green Team, Hamm schedules meetings, relays information from the university to the Academy, and works to connect the Green Team to Appalachian’s Office of Sustainability

They also developed and held professional development sessions for Academy employees. For example, media specialist Carla Clayton offered technology workshops to help teachers and staff become more familiar with Google Suite. 

“This training helped our teachers and staff become more sustainable by being able to share documents, meeting agendas, spreadsheets, calendar events, and more virtually instead of printing out sheets of paper in order to disseminate information,” noted Hamm.

Zero Waste Program

Students Angel Zamora-Perez and Josiah Jones help collect recycling from the classrooms.Students Angel Zamora-Perez and Josiah Jones help collect recycling from the classrooms. Photo submitted

The Academy’s Zero Waste program centers around its efforts to be more sustainable by becoming more conscientious of the items being thrown out as well as the items coming into the school. The program also focuses on trying to recycle harder to recycle items such as markers, various art supplies, and ink/toner cartridges. 

“There has been a tremendous buy-in from teachers, staff, and students,” exclaimed Hamm. “We have actually been running into a problem of having too much recycling for the carts we received from the town of Walkertown.” 

Initially, they started with two carts, which are used to collect recycling. These materials are then picked up by the town and transported to a recycling facility. The Green Team has had to order two additional carts because of the Academy’s increased recycling efforts and awareness. 

“At first, I was hesitant about creating such a large and daunting program,” said Hamm. “Asking people to switch their mindset seems easy enough, but to have people actually shift their mindset and take on something new is its own undertaking.” 

“However, the teachers and staff at the Academy are amazing people and do not shy away from a challenge,” added Hamm. “Teachers and staff have jumped in, and really taken the Zero Waste program seriously.” 

Even the custodians have noticed a decrease in the amount of trash going into the dumpster every day.

In order to make sure that students felt a sense of ownership in these efforts, fifth-grade teacher Monique Johnson helped to select a group of fifth-grade students from each classroom to lead with recycling collection efforts every other Friday. These student leaders are:

  • Rajanae Bethea
  • Tatiana Rowland
  • Erick Mariche-Garcia
  • Milani Guzman
  • Tracen Tyner
  • Myrical Wilson
  • Angel Zamora-Perez
  • Yahir Perez
  • Danyell HIll
  • Josiah Jones

These students collect the recycling from each classroom and bring it to a central location for pick-up.

Students Rajanae Bethea and Angel Zamora-Perez show off how much recycling they have collected.Students Rajanae Bethea and Angel Zamora-Perez show off how much recycling they have collected. Photo submitted

Greenhouse

The Green Team thought it would be important to have a way to grow fruits and vegetables during the school year so the students could see the entire life cycle of a plant, and be able to reap some of the rewards of growing fruits and vegetables. 

“Many of our students do not know where their food comes from, and with a greenhouse, we are offering our students a way to explore just that and to grow some of their own,” said Hamm. 

“Many of our students do not know where their food comes from, and with a greenhouse, we are offering our students a way to explore just that and to grow some of their own,” said Hamm. 

A twelve-foot diameter geodesic dome greenhouse was ordered and built, and there are six raised beds, one for each grade level. The Academy school building is currently closed due to COVID-19; however, when the building reopens, students will be able to plant and nurture seeds in the greenhouse.

Earth Day is Every Day 

Earth Day was April 22, and even though everyone is learning and working from home, the Academy encouraged everyone to take part. 

Earth Day marks the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970, and 2020 celebrated the 50th anniversary.

“One thing students, parents, teachers, and schools can do right now to help make a difference is to change their mindset,” said Hamm. “Recycling, composting, upcycling, and being sustainable minded isn’t easy when you do it by yourself, but as a team, as a family, as Earth-conscious citizens, we can join together to help each other by doing our part.” 

“If everyone does their part to become more aware of the trash/recycling they’re bringing into their homes/schools, we can become more conscious about the trash/recycling being thrown out,” he continued. 

“Just being more aware, more conscious, more compassionate toward our Earth can help tremendously,” noted Hamm.

Being Sustainable Remotely & Looking Forward

The Academy is continuing its efforts of the Green Team in the new remote environment. 

“We have big plans for next year,” said Hamm. “We want to try to add a composting element to the Zero Waste program as well as trying to use plastic, reusable trays in the cafeteria for lunch.” 

Hamm has shifted some of the focus from zero waste to “focusing more on the sustainability of oneself, and how to extend that sustainable mind frame to our students and families.”

Examples of this include:

  • Using Schoology, a social networking service and virtual learning environment for K-12 schools that allows users to create, manage, and share academic content, as a way for students to post to discussion boards either through text, adding files, or pictures.
  • Daily interactive literary Zoom sessions with the Anderson Reading Clinic, where students write poetry and create their own comic books. 
  • Resources for teachers and staff to utilize to help mental health from the Academy’s social worker, Rhonda Lang. 

In addition, Hamm shared that the Green Team is busy planning for next year. 

“We have big plans for next year,” said Hamm. “We want to try to add a composting element to the Zero Waste program as well as trying to use plastic, reusable trays in the cafeteria for lunch.” 

“We would like to introduce a student gardening club, where we teach students how to grow fruits and vegetables, how to care for their plants, how to harvest their fruits and vegetables and save seeds for the next growing season,” he added.

Because growing is what the Green Team is all about. 

Related Stories

Amplifying Sustainability at the Academy at Middle Fork

JustPax Fund supports sustainability leadership development for educators, administrators at Appalachian Academy at Middle Fork

 

Contributed by Rebekah Saylors

The Academy’s Zero Waste Program helps teachers and students increase their recycling efforts.
Published: Apr 28, 2020 8:42am

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