14 Chippewa Valley schools earn green designation

By: Jeremy Selweski | C&G Newspapers | Published April 30, 2013

MACOMB TOWNSHIP/CLINTON TOWNSHIP — To paraphrase Gordon Gekko, green is good — but emerald and evergreen are even better.

At a banquet held on April 16, the Macomb County Board of Commissioners and the Macomb Intermediate School District recognized 127 schools throughout the county that have demonstrated environmentally friendly practices and programs this year, including 14 from Chippewa Valley Schools.

The local schools to earn official Michigan Green School status for 2012-13 were Cherokee, Cheyenne, Erie, Huron, Miami, Mohawk, Ojibwa, Sequoyah and Shawnee elementary schools; Algonquin, Iroquois, Seneca and Wyandot middle schools; and Chippewa Valley High School. Incorporating a variety of sustainable practices, ecological projects and a commitment to environmental education into their everyday activities, these 14 schools achieved either Green, Emerald or Evergreen designation, depending on the number of points that they received for their efforts.

Iroquois was one of 27 Macomb County schools to earn Green status this year, with 10-14 points in five different environmental categories that include recycling, energy consumption, environmental protection and more. Algonquin, Cheyenne, Erie and Miami were four of the county’s 48 Emerald schools, with 15-19 points. The other nine schools all reached Evergreen status as part of a group of 52 county schools with 20 or more points.

“To have 14 schools on this list is a great achievement,” said Ron Roberts, superintendent of Chippewa Valley Schools. “This program has been mostly teacher-driven across our district, and they’re the ones who have really helped build it up over the last five years. It just keeps growing every year. It’s a very focused effort that’s really become a part of the culture at these schools now.”

At Wyandot, which earned Evergreen designation this year, recycling has long been a major part of that culture. According to eighth-grade teacher Cheryle Kahl, a member of Wyandot’s Green Schools committee, the school recycles everything from the traditional paper, plastic, cardboard and metal, to old computers, cellphones and printer cartridges. It also encourages students to “recycle” unopened, nonperishable food items from their lunch as part of its ongoing effort to move toward a waste-free lunch program.

In addition, Wyandot shares “green facts” with students each day on its morning announcements, holds an Earth Day poster design contest every year and features a water-usage awareness section in its curriculum. The school has also undertaken a worm composting project in the past and brought in guest environmental speakers from the Macomb County Public Works Department, as well as biologists from Science Alive. This year, for the first time, Wyandot students will also be taking on a new project of painting birdhouses.

“All of these little things really add up, and they’re all about raising awareness that we’re all sharing the same planet,” Kahl said. “We always try to teach our students that this is not just one person’s responsibility — it’s everyone’s responsibility. And they end up doing it on their own just because they care. They don’t receive any awards for doing this, only the intrinsic reward of doing something good for the environment.”

Sequoyah also achieved Evergreen status this year and is one of only 16 Macomb County schools to make the Green Schools list for each of the past five years. Fourth-grade teacher Bridget Blackwell, who coordinates the program at Sequoyah, pointed out that the school has a handful of ongoing green projects outdoors. The most unusual of these is the two bat houses in front of the building that Blackwell said “help to keep the ecosystem in balance” by controlling the insect population. Another is a Michigan garden featuring only plants and foods found naturally within the state.

Like Wyandot, Sequoyah tries to recycle everything that it possibly can, even items like used glue containers and plastic bottle caps. The school is also pursuing waste-free lunches by encouraging students to bring all of their food in reusable containers and attempting to go paperless by sending out all communications via email. Sequoyah students are also regularly featured in Macomb County DPW’s annual calendar contest, in which students create artwork showing how they will help take care of the environment.

One of the school’s biggest annual activities is its giant Earth Day celebration, which features a school-wide cleanup event with students and their families.

“In some years, we’ve even had kids who were so inspired by our cleanup that they decided to help pick up trash around their own neighborhood,” Blackwell said. “When they can take these ideas that they learn in school and have them transcend into their daily lives, that’s such an encouraging sign.”

Both educators are convinced that, by teaching their students the importance of being green — or emerald, or evergreen — they are setting them on the right path to create a more sustainable future.

“I think it’s important for us to help these kids become global citizens,” Kahl said. “Middle school students are very impressionable, so you can take all that great energy they have and focus it on something positive, like making the world a greener place. Who they are now will have a huge impact on the adults that they will become down the road.”

Blackwell agreed but set her ambitions even higher. “We want to change the world, honey — that’s our goal,” she said. “At this young age, we can really make an impact on the way these kids think and act. I truly believe that they will be the catalyst for change, in the long run. Thirty years from now, we will have a totally different world on our hands, thanks to these kids.”

For more information on the Macomb County Green Schools Program, call (586) 469-6484 or visit www.greenmacomb.com.

Staff Writer Sara Kandel contributed to this report.