Hop on the bus—it’s hip
Since when has taking the bus to school been cool? Since we discovered it helps keep the Earth cool, too.
Until two years ago, competitive freestyle skier and ninth-grader Zana Davey hopped into her dad’s car for the daily commute to The Community School. When she found out how car emissions harm air quality and potentially intensify global warming, she and a friend made the decision to take the bus. "This year there are 10 to 15 more kids who get the bus. It’s super-crowded—standing room only," said Davey. "I think that’s really great."
Valley youth are taking on environmental issues in unprecedented numbers, and some have achieved remarkable results. In early 2006, when Davey signed up for seventh-grade science and math teacher Scott Runkel’s course, Activism 101, she had no idea that just a few months later, she would be speaking directly to local political leaders about global warming. The group’s goal was to choose something, anything that needed changing, and work to enable it. The students chose climate control. "We did a survey, and talked to community leaders, and it became clear that there was a large education issue," said Runkel.
The students organized a screening of Al Gore’s documentary film, An Inconvenient Truth, invited local politicians, and led a town-hall-style meeting afterward, during which the assembly generated a list of ideas on how to address the problem.
Of her meeting with then-Mayor of Hailey Susan McBryant, Davey said, "At that point, the town of Hailey wasn’t even endorsing the public bus system. I think that was a surprise to her. It was really cool to be 13 years old and telling this person in power something she didn’t know. We often assume that the people in power know a lot, and sometimes they don’t."
The students then screened local photographer and producer Chris Pilaro’s film, Everything’s Cool. "When the mayor came to the movie," Runkel recalled, "she handed us a Climate Protection Agreement Act." In November 2007, the city of Hailey won a rare $5,000 grant, sponsored in part by the Environmental Protection Agency that helps the government implement programs to reduce its carbon footprint. "Of course, we don’t take full credit for the changes," said Runkel, admitting it takes the efforts of many to move a mountain.
Davey hopes to continue enabling the green movement through informational placards in grocery stores to educate consumers about the benefits of using environmentally friendly compact fluorescent light bulbs, and by initiating an incentive program to minimize the use of plastic grocery bags.
And then there’s Max Harris, a senior who Runkel calls the "recycling guru of The Community School." If you want to know what a Techno Trashcan is, ask Harris—or any of dozens of students whose admission fee into a recent school dance was an obsolete piece of electronic equipment to be dropped into the trashcan for recycling. Harris, who started the Recycling Club, which placed recycle bins around the school, is an ideal ambassador for the issue. Why? According to Davey, "he’s popular and everyone looks up to him." Rare attributes in leaders today.
From burritos to biodiesel
Whitney DeBree, now a freshman at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, started Wood River High School’s Eco Club in 2005. Craig Barry, executive director of the Environmental Resource Center, remembers helping DeBree raise funds to travel to Boise to hear Al Gore speak on global warming. "That was a springboard for the excitement," Barry said.
"She really wanted to meet Al Gore, and tell him what she and her friends were doing," recalled her father, Mark. "So she went to a cocktail party where there were only adults, and she talked to him!" When asked if he’d influenced her to care for the environment, Mark said modestly. "We recycle, we vermicompost, so I suppose she comes by it honestly."
Junior Lyndsey Lascheck has since taken over the Eco Club, and has gained recognition as the originator of last November’s wildly successful Green Generation Holiday Fair, organized by the Wood River High School honors seminar class. The fair was the culmination of a trimester of work by 21 students directed by teacher Michel Sewell.
"We spent the first two to three weeks researching local and international problems, then presented our findings and, as a group, decided what to focus on," explained Sewell. When the class chose to target the environment, they broke into three groups. The first focused on transportation and created a carpool Web site for the entire school district. The second worked to bring recycling bins into every classroom in the high school. The third group concentrated on educating local businesses and helping to implement green strategies.
Ninth-grader Siomara Navarrete turned back to her roots. "I went out and talked to Mexican restaurants about recycling," said Navarrete, 15. "They didn’t really know about recycling. It’s more awareness—they need to know about it before they act on it. They said yes, they’d be willing to recycle. And some wanted to start donating oil to make biodiesel!" If the Eco Club gets its way, this may be viable in the future; they have initiated discussions about how to run the school bus fleet on biodiesel.
Lascheck also pushes the issue on her own home front. "Now I’m starting to tell my mom to turn off the lights, to turn off the water."
The green generation is indeed educating the gray generation. Barry chuckles knowingly when he says, "There’s a lot of pressure these young adults can exert."
Grommets go green
How do you raise a child to be environmentally aware? Zana Davey grew up in an only slightly greener-than-average home that recycles and reuses plastic bags. "We probably don’t do enough," admits her father, Walter, but he says communication has been key. "We have really good dinnertime discussions. Sometimes to the point where Zana says, ‘You’re depressing me!’"
The education can start early. Susan Deffé, mother of four-year-old twins Chloe and Myles, straps them into their car seats when she takes a load to the Ohio Gulch Resource Recovery Center. "Would you throw out a box or recycle it?" Deffé asked her son. "I would recycle it," replied Myles solemnly. Why? "’Cuz it’s important to save trees." When asked how she helps her mom recycle, Chloe told how it was: "We go in the car, and we stay in the car."
They may not understand the larger implications of saving a milk carton, but seeing their parents take the time to do it, helping fill the compost bin and giving away toys they’ve grown out of instead of throwing them out, instills responsibility early. The twins are in their second season skiing Dollar Mountain; their father, Chip, owns Sun Summit South, a ski and bike shop in Hailey. In a remote community that depends on the environment for its livelihood, children are learning that what comes around goes around.
Discussing global warming, Davey insisted that skiing "definitely will be affected—I think it already has been. Living here, we have a bigger responsibility—there’s the cost of grooming, the cost of getting food all the way out here. We make more of an impact than other places."
Thankfully, it’s easy for youngsters to befriend the environment these days through a wide array of community programs. For the youngest set, the Sawtooth Botanical Garden invites four- to six-year-olds to week-long summer Garden Camps. Each week focuses on a different theme, such as the connection between what’s in the ground and what’s on your dinner plate, or bug behavior and morphology. Garden Education Specialist Allison Kennedy runs an outreach program that brings her into elementary schools to instruct classes on such subjects as hydroponics, the biosphere and flower morphology. The garden’s Bug Zoo exhibit attracted 1,400 students last spring, and promises to reach more this year.
AmeriCorps member Kimberly Ralphs coordinates a vermicomposting outreach program through the ERC at Hemingway Elementary School. She explained that worms are definitely not too cool for school. "Each day of the week, we compost the lunch scraps from one grade. Each student has a chance to be a worm wizard."
The worm wizard stands by the trashcan to collect orange peels, bread crusts, apple cores—any vegetarian leftovers. These are taken out back to two large bins where the worms live in a bedding of shredded newspaper. "The younger kids want to hold the worms," said Ralphs. "It’s a lot of fun to work with them because they’re so curious." Ralphs teaches not only what worms do for us, but what the worms need to do their job. In three to six months, the lunch scraps have turned into useable compost. Ralphs hopes that in the future the compost will be used in classroom planting programs.
"My main concern is for kids to connect the dots and live in a sustainable way," said Craig Barry. "Not to have to wear flip flops and eat granola, or do without."