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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Walnut Hills High School, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA

Walnut Hills High School, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA
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Registered: June 2019
City/Town/Province: Cincinnati
Posts: 1
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The origin of the Sustainability Program at Walnut Hills High School began in 2014 when I was a freshman. I attended a meeting including two parents and a few students. We started by discussing current sustainability initiatives at the institution. We had classroom recycling, which covered primarily paper. We had various organizations as extracurriculars, including Green Club which covered gardening, BioEco doing conservation, and various science clubs that taught about the Earth but didn't physically do anything for it. We then conversed about ways to improve our campus, surprised at how much we could be doing, but weren't. Many ideas were thrown around until a couple were agreed upon: a public recycling system for the entire school, and a student food share program.
As a group, we took our concept to student congress, who were skeptical at first as to what niche we would fill on campus. I helped explain our role: we would be a service-oriented club, recruiting students to make sure their peers were putting the correct items in the recycling and to pull the bags when they got full. This program would be a pilot within our district, as many schools did not even have classroom recycling, and none had public recycling. We also explained our food share idea, which was a unique selling point. Walnut Hills is a public school of over three thousand students that sits in one of Cincinnati's numerous food deserts. With the program, students would be able to put sealed food items in a designated place, allowing other hungry students to take those items free of charge. Not only would it help keep good food out of the landfill, it would feed students that would not otherwise get enough to eat at home. After hearing our arguments, student congress made us an official organization on campus.
We wrote grants to the city of Cincinnati for recycling bins with the help of a parent volunteer and received them soon after. These bins were placed in the school's two stadiums, both gyms, three lunchtime areas, and two general outdoor areas. The same parent volunteer also bought a refrigerator for the food share program with her own money. Then it was up to us, and we began recruiting students. The initial founders, including myself, started as student volunteers, spending our study halls either overseeing and correcting what students were putting in the bins during lunch (4th bell), taking out the recycling and cleaning the bins during 5th bell, or taking care of the non-lunch-related recycling bins and making sure everything was in place during 6th bell.
The initial years were difficult for Sustainability. Recruitment of volunteers went well enough, but trying to get the student body, faculty, and custodial staff to recognize our efforts seemed near impossible. The faculty viewed us as a new organization trying to do too much, the students not participating in our program essentially ignored us, and the custodians tried as hard as they could to get rid of us. Specifically pertaining to the custodians, throughout the years they have hidden our bins, thrown away our recycling, told us misleading things, and have generally been extraordinarily unhelpful. While they were and still are under the impression that the Program hinders them, I can testify to the opposite. Before Sustainability, there were over twenty trash receptacles in the cafeteria alone that the custodians would have to empty every lunch bell, or at least every day. After instating recycling, there has only been eight trashcans for the past several years. (Let it be known that some individuals have been very helpful to the program, but the custodians as a whole have been generally uninterested in helping.)
My sophomore year we introduced Terracycling to the list of initiatives covered. Terracycling is a company that upcycles unconventional items, and we added yellow bins to every lunch area to accompany regular recycling. Now, instead of only collecting cardboard, paper, aluminum cans, and glass/plastic bottles, we added chip bags, wrappers, plastic bags, juice pouches, and applesauce squeeze pouches. Unlike recycling, which could be single streamed into a dumpster, we had to hand sort the Terracycling, throwing away anything with food waste on it, packaging the rest, and shipping it to the company. This required students to stay after school to sort the bags, a sometimes very long process, especially if there was a backlog. I ended up taking on most of the responsibility for the sorting, often taking home bags and doing it on my front porch with my dad or friends. Due to a lack of interested volunteers, the difficult decision was made to take away Terracycling at the beginning of this past school year.
Sustainability has also overseen recycling during events on campus, such as various school dances and sports games (most notably football and basketball). The dances required coordinating with the parent boards putting them on. The games, on the other hand, saw students gaining free entry in exchange for staying up to fifteen minutes after the game to collect recyclables in the stands, concessions areas, and to empty the bins. Regarding sports related initiatives, many teams and clubs at Walnut conducted pizza sales after school as fundraisers. During these sales, up to fifty pizzas could be sold, and prior to Sustainability the boxes would end up in the trash. While it has been an ongoing process, we have negotiated with the administration to only allow pizzas to be purchased from companies/locations that line their boxes with wax sheets, so the entire box could be recycled instead of only the non-greasy half.
The aforementioned food share program, consisting of a mini refrigerator in the cafeteria, has been our most successful initiative to date. After lunch, the refrigerator would be stocked with sealed orange juice, milk, and fruit that students didn't want, and by the end of the day, it would be completely empty. While there were some issues with the refrigerator staying the right temperature, that allowed us to take food safety guidelines up with first the city and then the state's legislature, getting the rules changed to allow temporary higher temperature exposure for a reasonable amount of time. Our food share program became a pilot for the district with many other schools, especially in poorer areas, trying out the idea. Along with the food share came food donation. We saw much food getting thrown away by the kitchen before breaks and so we negotiated a way for parent volunteers to pick up the unused food (ranging from fresh produce, to prepackaged meals, to cartons of milk and orange juice) and deliver it to local food pantries.
Sustainability has, since the beginning, also provided volunteers for city events such as the Flying Pig Marathon and Queen Bee Half Marathon. These required students to attend the events and oversee recycling bins, telling the public what to put in where as they came to throw things away. Our presence at the marathons, usually thirty to forty volunteers for each of two shifts, helped the organizers keep their Green Certifications under the city, and in turn would give us several hundred dollars to put toward our program.
Last but not least, starting my senior year, I began a school supply reclamation at the end of the school year during locker/classroom cleanout. Prior to Sustainability, once students left for the summer the faculty and custodians would throw away everything remaining in classrooms and lockers. With the new program, we collect school textbooks, viable school supplies, clothing, locks with combos, unperishable food, and all the remaining recycling. This has saved thousands of pounds of material from the landfill, as all the above would otherwise have been thrown away. We have also saved the school money, as each textbook that goes missing or gets "accidentally" thrown away must be repurchased (some textbooks go for several hundred dollars).
I, the last of the founders, graduated in the spring of 2018. Since then, the program has continued to flourish despite a rough transitioning period during the first semester without me. I now serve as a student leader trainer, program recruiter, and alumnus volunteer. All the above programs, except for Terracycling, have been maintained successfully. New this year, Sustainability put on a revamped Earth Jam after the founding org, BioEco, gave it up. Earth Jam is an environmental education event that had fallen apart in the past few years until Sustainability took it over spring of 2019. The attached picture shows our table at the event, which included eighteen campus organizations as well as several outside organizations. Each table was required to showcase their club's initiatives with a sustainability spin on it. The event also included food sales, live music, henna, and activities. It attracted several hundred students throughout the day and raised over $600 for our Program.
Overall, Sustainability has dramatically changed behaviors at Walnut, and has produced students, like me, that are now pursuing careers in environmental fields.
Date: June 26, 2019 Views: 4629 File size: 17.3kb, 669.8kb : 2443 x 1374
Hours Volunteered: 1000
Volunteers: 218
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 19 & 12-18
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