Last month teachers and staff gathered in the school garden for the presentation of Fairmont’s Leadership in Sustainable Communities Award given by Sustainable Contra Costa for the Waste Matters program. The Waste Matters program at Fairmont has made a deep and lasting impact on the school’s culture and shines like a beacon to other schools in the district. Waste Matters was launched in the 2013-14 school year as a pilot project to create a culture of zero waste in a school community. Fairmont staff, parents, and students responded with open minds and open hearts.
Every day, students compost their lunch food scraps in the cafeteria and recycle in their classrooms. Student helpers, known as the Green Team, guide their peers in correctly sorting their waste into trash, compost, and recycling. Mrs. Galen Murphy, Fairmont’s principal, supports their learning by reminding them what to do. She is aided in that effort by parent Nicole Haynes, a lunch supervisor, and custodian Lamorris Francis. Mrs. Murphy commented that her focus is “teaching the students habits to protect their planet” and mentioned that many students live in apartments where composting and recycling are not available. Since the Waste Matters program began, she has noticed that students take more responsibility now for cleaning up after themselves, because “there’s a place for everything to go.”
Mimi-Holtermann Docto writes about her first graders’ increased awareness of recycling: “First of all they ask if the waste product is recycle or garbage. They monitor what they throw away and what others do. They correct each other but do not do it in an offensive way. Recycling is a natural part of their day. It is effortless to them.”
The backbone of Waste Matters is environmental education. The Watershed Project’s education team led by Liza Dadiomov teaches lessons in grades 1-6 on the 4Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot), watershed stewardship and marine debris, and climate change. Parent volunteer Heather Hart teaches the 4th-6th graders about composting. Fifth grade teacher Karen Duncan writes that her students “often reference back to lessons or assemblies with Waste Matters, and everyone is on board with making a zero-waste environment.”
Julia Marshall, who teaches moderately to severely handicapped students is a true zero waste champion. Her students have participated in the Green Team in the cafeteria, contributing to the planet and learning important life skills in the process. In the classroom, her students learn about the entire life cycle of crickets, from the growth phase (feeding) to end of life. Ms. Marshall has them collect the dead crickets and scatter them in the garden, thereby putting nutrients back into the soil. She shared a story about a non-verbal student in a wheelchair who loved to collect herbs from the garden and smell them.
During the first year of Waste Matters, parents, teachers, students, and community members rolled up their sleeves and gave the garden a much-needed makeover. Jen Komaromi, parent and gardener extraordinaire, has been the leader in cultivating and maintaining the garden for the past two years, planting a new wildflower garden and leading second graders in growing peas, beans, and potatoes. Her efforts will be augmented this year by nearly 30 other parents in grades K-6. In addition, an after-school garden club will join in—it’s a growing group!
It has been a pleasure and privilege for me to be involved with Waste Matters at Fairmont. This program has been sustained and supported by so many helping hands. At our garden party awards ceremony last month, we hoisted our glasses of super green smoothies (made from kale grown in the garden) and toasted Fairmont: “Forever green!” Working with the Fairmont school community has shown me the interconnectedness of human resources and natural resources. The daily habits of managing resources appropriately whether in the cafeteria, classroom, garden, or the larger watershed, connect us to one another and the earth.