Students Get an Earthly Lesson

Valley Elementary Students Get an Earthly Lesson
'Green Team' club members learn about venue's environmentally-friendly initiatives

June 2, 2011
By Angie Cochrun

A group of Valley Elementary School students may not have been in school on Wednesday afternoon, but that does not mean they weren't learning.

Members of the school's "Green Team" spent the day learning how to make a salad out of vegetables they brought from their school garden, viewing the composting process, exploring a rain barrel irrigation system and helping cultivate a garden at an unlikely site Musket Ridge Golf Club in Myersville.

Executive chef Kyle Roberson said the golf club has been focusing on being more sustainable since a challenge issued by their management company kicked off last year, and a partnership with the school, along with the Rock n Renew Foundation a nonprofit focused on delivering environmental education based in New York City was just one part of that.

"We're going to show them our process on how we do things here," he said Wednesday morning. "Now they're going to grow up doing this stuff."

Since late March the kitchen at Musket Ridge has been composting food waste. The club also recycles all plastic, aluminum, glass and cardboard and has a contract with a biofuel company to utilize kitchen grease as fuel.

Valley Elementary School teacher and Green Team leader Mary Cooley said the school environmental club started in fall of 2009, has 13 students that participate in a variety of activities from weeding to integrating technology with being green.

The group learned a little something about cooking on Wednesday, crushing into the warm kitchen in their white and green club T-shirts, peering into large silver bowls the chef put their vegetables in.

"Do you ever cut yourself with that knife?" mused a little girl watching the chef's hands fly over their tomatoes, carrots and cucumbers.

Fifth-grader Dylan Mangold was chosen to help Roberson with the salad spinner. The 11-year-old said he's been involved in the club for three years.

"It's fun," he said, listing off why making a difference, helping with wetlands, gardening and coordinating the school's Earth Day celebration. "It's really cool."

He said his favorite part has been helping a science teacher on Earth Day with snakes, his favorite animal. He helped handle the creatures, showing them to the younger grades. He's also learned about different animals' tracks in the snow, birds and even what a praying mantis egg looks like. He said he'd like to compost at home someday, but so far he's applied what he's learned by "planting a lot of stuff."

Jefferson resident Monica Miller was a parent chaperone on the trip, of which her daughter Sarah Buckley, 10, was a part. She said she's been to a couple of Green Team meetings every other Thursday at the school. "I think it's been a really good experience for Sarah and I think she's looking forward to it next year," she said.

Sarah, a fourth-grader, said she's looked forward to the club since she heard about it in the third grade. "I love helping the earth; I think it was a cool idea," she said of the club.

Sarah said her favorite parts of the Green Team were helping out with the school garden and Earth Day celebration, among the diverse activities. "Everything to help the earth we've probably done some of it," she said.

She marveled at the golf club's composting method. "All those extra steps I've never heard of," she said.

During the salad demonstration, all the food waste went into a large bucket in the kitchen. In fact, all the food waste at the club now goes into buckets intended for the compost heap, which uses a special composting method called bokashi that pickles the food waste. The process can break down meats unlike traditional composting, and microorganisms churn away at the waste, creating a nutrient-rich soil.

On the field trip, children sniffed at a handful of material in Jonny Dubowsky's hands. Dubowsky, a musician and founder of the Rock n Renew Foundation, touched the hot material that had been food at one time.

"The center of the pile can be 150 degrees," he told the marveling students.

Cooley said the school became involved with Rock n Renew recently after a parent saw an email about the program which has helped the Green Team with their Earth Day program and provided Wednesday afternoon's tour.

"We've got a lot of things going on," she said. The school is currently ranked a "green school" and efforts are underway to involve even more teachers in school efforts.

Rock n Renew is in 285 schools across the United States.

"We like to connect with the local community," Dubowsky said of the outreach. He said Valley Elementary already had a great program, and his organization sought to help build it even more.

Green Team member Audrey Cash, 9, planted straightneck squash on the trip, the leaves fluttering in the wind as she patted around the covered roots. She said she joined the club this year to learn. "I think people need to help the earth more," said the fourth-grader.

She said the rain barrel they saw that day was one of the most surprising things she had learned, but the one thing from the club that she hoped to translate to home was composting.

She said she's already used some of what she's learned in her backyard. "We're planting a garden," she smiled proudly.

Rock n Renew offers both scholastic programs and ecology action sites. The sites serve as destination learning centers and models for local action projects for students. The group helps connect school curriculum to local community projects to help repair local food systems and ecosystems. More information can be found at www.rocknrenew.com.