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Education  May 21, 2010

When worms meet Wikis, anything can happen

FORT COLLINS – With a group of environmentally conscious and social media savvy eighth-graders leading the way, over the last 25 weeks Kinard Middle School in Fort Collins has decreased the amount of trash it produces by 75 percent, diverted 12,500 pounds of food waste from landfills, and saved 106 trees.

It all started in October when Kinard partnered with Gallegos Sanitation Inc. to become the first school in the Poudre School District to compost, and the first school to have a four-stream waste system that includes trash, recycling and two levels of composting.

The program has been so successful that the Colorado Association of Recycling invited members of Kinard CARES, the environmental club leading the program, to speak at their annual Summit for Recycling conference in June.

“I came into eighth grade thinking this is going to being so hard,” student Sophia Alessi said of rallying her student body around sustainability. “But it was quite simple because students learn so easily, and they’re excited about it, about what we can do for the environment. Even though we are only one school, we can make a difference. Everyone can make a difference.”

Students at Kinard began recycling in April 2009, and in August they started vermicomposting food waste.

“We noticed we were having a lot of food waste in our cafeteria,” eighth-grader Juliet Mullen said. “We knew we could help out, so we put a worm box in the back of our school. “

In October, the school decided to seek the help of Gallegos Sanitation in doing even more. Gallegos was already the school district’s trash hauler, but its business model had been shifting toward community education and outreach on reducing waste and incorporating different waste streams.

Becca Walkinshaw, sustainability coordinator, was contacted by the district about Kinard’s interest in composting. She was accustomed to doing free education and outreach for local businesses, but she didn’t know what to expect going into a school.

“We played it by ear,” she says. “We did an audit of the waste stream: trash and recycling and worm compost. We saw some contamination in the recycling, items going into trash that could have been recycled, and we gave a presentation on the four waste streams.”

The new concept was hot compost. The students had learned through worm composting that anything that had been in the ground could go back in the ground, but hot composting was a step beyond that. Anything that was ever alive – like paper – could be collected for hot composting at an offsite, commercial facility.

Once their efforts got under way, Kinard CARES wanted to keep the rest of the student body excited. Gallegos and Walkinshaw helped by tracking the weight of the trash they were hauling (or not hauling) and sending the students weekly stats they also translated in terms of trees saved. Recently, Walkinshaw taught the students how to calculate their own diversion rate.

Social marketing campaign

The students also embarked on a social marketing campaign that included T-shirts, clear signs with images explaining what waste goes where in addition to manning the stations like traffic cops, incentives for recycling and composting, talking to sixth-grade classes and incoming fifth graders, and creating a Wiki page – http://kinardcares.wikispaces.com/ – with videos promoting their efforts and details about the program.

The campaign also encourages students to be healthier, since it’s junk food that creates trash like wrappers. Produce can all be composted.

“We really challenge our students at Kinard that when you throw something away to think about ‘where is away?’ not to just lazily throw things in the trash,” according to Chris Bergmannn, the science teacher who runs the Kinard CARES environmental club. “We help them make good decisions.”

Especially for his club, he said the program has offered students a chance to utilize 21st-century skills to make a real impact. “They’re speaking up, not just learning in the classroom,” he said. “They’re empowered by making big changes in their community. That’s very powerful as they grow into adulthood.”

Eighth-grader Sara Mundo didn’t know anything about recycling or composting when the school year started. She’s since not only taken a leadership role in the program at school, but also took the information home and changed how her house operates. She’s passionate that she can convince others in her community to do the same.

The students have also completed service projects cleaning up the Poudre River and did trail work on a recent service learning field trip to Catalina Island in California. Since returning, they have been educating their peers about buying locally grown fruits and vegetables to reduce their carbon footprint because of what they learned about how far food travels, said eighth-grader Lorena Martinez.

“It’s really cool how we can make anything happen,” Mundo added.

Martinez said she’s most excited about the impact Kinard CARES could have by persuading other schools to follow their example.

“I really want to make a difference in my community,” she said.  “We’ve educated our peers so much. No one can do everything but everyone can do something.  Diverting is really not that difficult.”

Already, Walkinshaw says Gallegos is starting to work with Polaris Expeditionary Learning on composting, and Bergmann is confident that other schools will catch on. “PSD is a pretty environmentally friendly district and Kinard is leading the way,” he says. “We’ve been bringing in other schools to help educate the rest of the community.”

FORT COLLINS – With a group of environmentally conscious and social media savvy eighth-graders leading the way, over the last 25 weeks Kinard Middle School in Fort Collins has decreased the amount of trash it produces by 75 percent, diverted 12,500 pounds of food waste from landfills, and saved 106 trees.

It all started in October when Kinard partnered with Gallegos Sanitation Inc. to become the first school in the Poudre School District to compost, and the first school to have a four-stream waste system that includes trash, recycling and two levels of composting.

The program has been so…

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