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Schools get greener



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Bottom (from left): Lexi Beemer, Trevor Wallace, Emma Crampton, Kailey Zatorski and Kate MacInnis. Top (from left): Andrew Romano, Makenna Wynn, Ava Collier and Austin West. Teachers: Emily Becker and Louis Gomez. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
April 25, 2012 - By Lance Farrell

Leader Staff Writer

Oxford Community Schools turned two different shades of green this spring when three of its elementaries were honored April 24 at a ceremony held in Waterford.

Of the 183 state-wide schools recognized as Michigan Green Schools, Oxford can now boast of the inclusion of Clear Lake, Leonard, and Lakeville to the bunch.

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The Green Schools program, now in its sixth year, rewards schools who document excellence in five categories: Recycling, Energy, Environmental Protection, Miscellaneous, and Propose Your Own. To qualify, schools perform two activities in each of these categories.

Schools that document performance are awarded points; 10 points earns a "Green" designation, 15 points garners an "Emerald" designation, and 20 secures "Evergreen," the highest status.

In the OCS district, Lakeville Elementary, under the guidance of 5th grade teacher Emily Becker, attained the Green status. Becker finds it encouraging to see the passion displayed by students who want "to advocate for themselves and their future."

Among the activities accomplished by her group were a unit on alternative energy, a two-week segment of the semester's curriculum in which the kids found great potential in the installation of a wind turbine.

Students at Lakeview also maintained a Natural Michigan flower garden, and launched a recycling program in order to have a waste-free lunch program..

Over at Clear Lake Elementary, Principal Suzanne Hannant was proud of her students ability to retain their Evergreen status, and to also achieve the award for five consecutive years. Hannant loved the positive benefits she sees for her students, and considered it a "great way for the kids to become conscious" of their relation to the world.

Under the direction of mentors Renee Felix and Kirsten Booth, the Clear Lake Green team installed an interactive garden and adopted three endangered or threatened species: a Polar Bear, a sea turtle nest in Clearwater, FL, and Winter, the now-famous baby bottle-nosed dolphin with the prosthetic tail.

Felix praised her kids on the Green team for a letter writing campaign that resulted in a change to the materials used in the lunch service. Instead of a styrofoam container, now all lunches are delivered to students in a reusable basket with a paper liner.

The Clear Lake Green team also wrote favorably received letters to breakfast cereal giant Kellogg's. Students determined that cardboard outer boxes are inessential to the product, and instead asked Kellogg's to consider something like the decorated cereal bags sent back by the students in lieu of the exterior packaging. Students then transformed the discarded cereal boxes into a cardboard tree.

The kids are the driving force, Felix emphasized. They are so excited "because they feel they are making a difference;" these small green changes are "something they can do."

These "small changes" are spilling over into their homes, Felix noted. It's common to see the students with clipboards around their school and neighborhoods handing out energy audits and report cards to teachers and parents.

One way the students impact the home, Felix mentioned, was to change the use of water at home, marking crayon lines in bathroom sinks to see how much is wasted when the tap is left on while brushing teeth.

On May 17, Clear Lake will hold a "Get Outside Day," which will feature a composting workshop by a master gardener, and a fly-fishing demonstration.

Following Clear Lake's environment example, Leonard Elementary advances for the first time to the rarified Evergreen echelon. Jessica Scineo heads up the Leonard Green Team that began back in 2007.

Among the many accomplishments by the Leonard kids, Scineo lists an impressive recycling campaign. The recycling initiative covers newspapers, office paper, cell phones, glass, inkjet cartridges, batteries and Capri Sun pouches. The juice pouches garner one cent each, which has earned the Addison Twp. school more than $5,000. In all, the green efforts have "not cost Addison one penny," Scineo boasted.

Another money-maker for the Leonard green team is the partnership they've made with Staples office center. The office supply store offers store credit to the school for each inkjet cartridge returned.

In addition to the recycling initiative, the Leonard Green team holds alternative energy teaching units, home energy audits, and will soon host a presentation of the GM Volt. Leonard has also revitalized the school front garden so that is now designated as a protected animal habitat.

Scineo praised her kids as "very eager to know" how to make a difference in the world they are inheriting. She said that the Michigan Green Schools Program is very good because "it brings awareness to kids . . . that they bring into the homes" and larger community.

All Green team leaders shared the international vision touted by OCS, and praised the district for leading in cultivating a longer, global view. All leaders consulted also considered there is more that can be done, however.

Both Renee Felix and Jessica Scineo suggested adding a recycling option at all major Oxford functions. "If we make it more convenient," Felix reasoned, "more people will participate."

Another way OCS can improve its Green pedigree is to take part in the annual Earth Hour, an event held on the last Saturday of each March in which entire businesses, towns, states, and nations cease consuming energy for a single hour.

Students viewed the worldwide event on YouTube and were thrilled to see the broad acceptance of the same concerns they find so motivating.

Congratulations to all three OCS Green Teams! Perhaps Jessica Scineo is right when she says, that this is the "generation that will make the push" to change our national consciousness about environmental stewardship.

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