Hopkins Elementary students have learned a very valuable lesson: One person, even a kid, can change the world, and if several work together, there is no limit to what they can accomplish.
Case in point: This past spring, after students in Marika Conrad's fourth/fifth-grade class learned that pounds of organic waste were being thrown into the garbage at the end of lunchtime each day, they were on board to start composting the food to turn it into garden mulch.
According to Conrad, the school worked with Pride Disposal to do a lunch garbage audit at the end of February, and after sorting and separating the garbage from the three lunch periods, 30 pounds of compostable products were found.
Casey Brennan, who taught first grade this past year and will teach second grade next year, worked on the composting program with Conrad.
Brennan praised Pride Disposal employees who came to the school and measured the different components of the lunchroom waste that included not only food but also paper products and milk cartons. "They sent us a report," she added.
"We talked about what we could do with it and came up with the idea of forming a compost club with students running the program," Conrad said. "I had kids in my class apply to be in the club and chose nine. They did research and made a slide show on the importance of composting to present to every class in the school.
"Then I divided the team into pairs, and on May 17, 18 and 19, my students worked at the different lunch periods to coach all the students on what could go into the compost bins. The kids made notes, and the next day they made an announcement giving their feedback on how it went. After that, each student signed up to be in charge of the bins in the cafeteria and dumping them in the compost bins outside."
Brennan added, "It was cool. The kids had a few days of training, and once they understood the process, they were ready to go. My first-graders were very knowledgeable about the subject."
Graham Lawson and his Boy Scout Troop 224 of Sherwood built the Hopkins outdoor compost bins in April 2016 and added some additional screening and boards in the spring of 2017 to make them rodent-proof before they were used for the compost project; the Scoutmaster is Ron Groeger.
Former Sherwood School District staffer and volunteer Kris Field Eaton also joined in, showing the Compost Club kids how to properly fill the compost bins by alternating each day's refuse with layers of straw or hay.
Students in the Compost Club include Lia Wagner, Mia Fandrey, Rosalind Young, Brynna Lee, Max Ellerton, Abby Gibson, Abby Jernstedt, Tylee Sarano Pestana and John Sutton.
Five members of the club got together before the end of the school year to talk about composting and why they wanted to participate in the program, starting with Abby G., who said, "I thought it would be a fun thing to help the planet and our school and not waste food."
Abby J. added, "I thought it would be fun to work as a team to help the school, although it can be messy if a milk carton opens and spreads milk all over everything."
Max and Tylee agreed that they thought it would be fun to sort through the lunch debris, and Abby G. noted that "it is all mashed together."
Several of the kids said their families already composted at home and they were eager to continue the practice at school.
The kids listed what goes into the compost bin and what stays out: On the approved list are fruits, vegetables, clean paper napkins and bread; items that cannot go in are meat, greasy food and pizza.
"We spent a week in the cafeteria teaching the kids what to put in the compost bins," Max said. "We usually get two bins every day."
Abby J. added, "The kindergartners were the hardest to teach. I told one, 'No chicken nuggets,' but he put them in anyway."
Abby G. said that "when we did the slide show, we told the kids things like 'Don't take extra salad just to put in the compost bin' because some of them thought it was fun to have leftovers for the compost bin."
Tylee explained that "it's really better to eat all your food," and Abby G. agreed, saying "It's a good lesson not to take too much food."
The kids also know the science behind composting, with Lia explaining that no meat or dairy products can be included "because they can't break down because they're made from different enzymes."
After the kids dumped up to two portable bins of lunch waste into the large outside bins each day, they added a layer of straw or hay. They expect when they return in the fall that they will be able to spread the compost around the school garden.
"The custodial staff was so great about rinsing the lunchroom bins," Conrad said. "It was really amazing to see the kids take ownership of this project. It was a great lesson in responsibility for the kids.
"This wasn't something I had planned to do, but it was pretty doable. It gave the kids the chance to be stewards of our school and Earth, we saw a notable reduction of waste, and it was a pretty great opportunity."