Each morning after the Pledge of Allegiance, Spanaway Elementary School hears the “Green Fact” coming over the Public Address system: “Good Morning, this is Davarius, your Sustainability Chairman, with today’s GREEN FACT: We throw away enough aluminum every month to rebuild our entire commercial air fleet…. So, let’s remember to recycle those pop cans at lunch everyone.” Students and staff have been submitting “green facts” like this to share with the school, but just hearing figures like this aren’t enough for this school of 440; these kids like action.

Spanaway Elementary School boasts the title of “Bethel’s Greenest School”, not just a self-proclaimed honor, but a daily goal. Twenty-eight members of “The Green Team” lead the school in assemblies, take mini-lessons back in their classrooms on exactly what to put into recycle bins, and set more and more challenging environmental goals for the school.

The “Green Team” is not without staff support, three advisors: Karen Marchesini, Community Liason, Kim Nichols, sixth-grade teacher, and Anu Chapin, librarian, work closely with principal Kim Hanson and the ASB. “Since we have started our project, I get two to five e-mails a week from other staff members sharing new ways to be environmentally conscious, related articles, and kid-friendly things to try. Everyone is very excited, this seems to be on the minds of everyone right now. Our custodial staff has been so supportive, and I really hope that in the end this helps them to have an easier day,” said Kim Nichols, one of the advisors who is starting a water collection system for the school garden.

“There have been so many ways this has changed how we do things.” Karen Marchesini says, “By November we had already DOUBLED the amount of paper we recycled during all of last year!” But is takes more than just collecting paper, “we are thinking about things differently since our waste audit”, stated Chapin. Pierce County helped Spanaway to audit every piece of garbage in one day from every part of the school. “Our playshed was filled with blue tarps and trash was piled everywhere. Then we weighed each pile. Now we have a goal to reduce each number by the time we have our next audit in March,” said sixth-grader, Lauren David.

Recycling isn’t just for kids. The Spanaway staff room has two miniature garbage cans to collect food waste from coffee grounds to banana peels used in the school garden’s compost. “Everyone seems to be finding a way to do a part,” said Kim Hanson, who has personally sewn every staff member their own cloth napkin. “We started getting kids involved, and it has just snowballed with their enthusiasm.” Additionally, Hanson has gone to e-mails for school newsletters and flyers and is now 75% paper-free. “Parents have had a lot of positive feedback about getting an e-mail versus a flyer for event reminders, late starts, and messages. It’s really easy for parents to hit “return” and send us a little note back, so I think communication has truly improved with this plan.” More and more people are finding that “going green” can save both money and energy.

Green Team members meet regularly to keep up the “green momentum”, some of their upcoming events include: challenging staff members to “a day with their own coffee mugs” instead of paper coffee shop cups, an “oldest lunch bag contest” to challenge students to reuse their old bags, and inviting everyone to a “Waste Free Lunch” where nothing would need to be thrown in the trash after the meal. Reusing is contagious, this year Spanaway’s Read Across America event will be done using “no new waste”, meaning all hand-outs and bookmarks are left from previous events, and decorations are made with recycled materials. According to Chapin, “We have ordered a number of “green books because there has been so much interest since the “Green Team” has started. We challenge the other schools to create their own Green Team”.

“The community has rallied around this program,” said Marchesini, “we have had help getting cardboard cages from the LeMay Corporation, we are collecting plastic bags that Walmart will pay us for, and the Pierce County Public Works and Utilities group has helped us with money for field trips, audits, plus lots of collaboration. The kids have found some wonderful mentors in that group.”

Fifth-grader Justin Long sent a letter and received a response from the President about the state of the environment. As Justin says, “We have to do something right now or we are not leaving a very nice planet.” If the Spanaway Elementary students continue in this way, it will be a much better planet if they have anything to say about it.

NOTE: (March 2011) Since this article was printed in our district newspaper, we have continued to make significant progress. Each day in the cafeteria our students now pour out their liquid from milk cartons that now goes down the drain instead being thrown into the garbage bags. This is close to 55 pounds a day that would otherwise be carried to the dumpster by our custodians. There are collection sites in each building for aluminum cans and paper recycling in every room from classes to closets. ASB members survey the building for recycling and each has a designated pick up site they are responsible for. Additionally, our school is now participating in a program with Terra-cycle that pays us for sending them certain packaging materials. We have been collecting: Juice pouches, potato chip bags, empty glue sticks, and “Lunchable” plastic trays. Our first check came in the mail in December and we were able to announce to the students that we received $55.34. Not much money, but money for garbage kept out of the landfill and most importantly, our kids are constantly thinking about ways to be more environmentally careful. We are amazingly proud of our students. It has restored my faith in humanity a bit.