Hopkins Elementary students in Sherwood 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 spring, after students in Marika Conrad's fourth/fifth-grade class learned that many pounds of organic waste were being thrown into the garbage at the end of lunchtime each day, they figured out how to compost the food to turn it into garden mulch.
First the school worked with Pride Disposal to do a lunch garbage audit at the end of February, Conrad says. After sorting and separating the garbage from the three lunch periods, Pride prepared a report showing the makeup of the trash and found 30 pounds of compostable products.
The students talked about what to do with the results and came up with the idea of forming a student-run compost club, Conrad says.
"I had kids in my class apply to be in the club and chose nine. They did research and made a slideshow on the importance of composting to present to every class in the school."
She divided the team into pairs, and in May they worked the different lunch periods to coach all the students on what could go into the compost bins.
"After that, each student signed up to be in charge of the bins in the cafeteria and dumping them in the compost bins outside," Conrad says.
"The kids had a few days of training, and once they understood the process, they were ready to go," says teacher Casey Brennan, who worked on the program with Conrad. "My first-graders were very knowledgeable about the subject."
Graham Lawson and his Sherwood Boy Scout troop built outdoor compost bins for the school, adding screening and boards to make them rodent-proof.
Volunteer Kris Field Eaton showed the Compost Club kids how to properly fill the compost bins by alternating each day's refuse with layers of straw or hay.
Several of the kids said their families already composted at home and they were eager to continue the practice at school.
"I thought it would be a fun thing to help the planet and our school and not waste food," says Abby Gibson, one of the club members.
Fellow club member Abby Jernstedt 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."
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," says club member Max Ellerton. "We usually get two bins every day."
"The kindergartners were the hardest to teach," says Abby Jernstedt. "I told one, 'No chicken nuggets,' but he put them in anyway."
"When we did the slideshow," Abby GIbson says, "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."
The kids also learned the science behind composting, with Lia Wagner explaining that no meat or dairy products can be included "because they can't break down because they're made from different enzymes."
"It was really amazing to see the kids take ownership of this project," Conrad says.
"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."
Club members expect to return to school this month and spread the compost around the school garden.