FERNDALE — John F. Kennedy Elementary School has been recognized by Oakland County for being a Green School over the past four years. Always one of the top environmentally friendly schools in the county, JFK has never been able to claim the No. 1 spot on the list until now.
During an April 24 ceremony, JFK was finally named the Green School of the Year for Oakland County. Roosevelt Elementary School was also honored for their green initiatives.
“It is fantastic. We all just work really hard at these projects and promote it, and while we never expected to be No. 1, it’s pretty incredible,” D’Anne McNeil, a JFK Green School coordinator and kindergarten teacher, said. “I think because being green is embraced by our entire community, that is what put us up there. It is a huge task doing all the things we do, but if everybody just helps a little bit, it makes a big difference.”
Five years ago, McNeil and Susan Christin helped start the green committee at JFK with a recycling program. Since then, it has blossomed into involving other staff members, parents and students who help run the recycling, as well as several gardens on the school property.
The gardens grow such things as lettuce, rhubarb, beans and sunflowers, all of which is harvested and sold. Recently, a group has started a Michigan native garden, which has bird feeders and serves as a monarch butterfly way station.
This year, a kindergarten and first-grade day camp at Geary Park taught the students about renewable energy, including water, solar and wind power.
“I think our gardens and the camp really help us stand out from other schools in the county,” McNeil said. “Susan and I have kind of been in charge, but it kind of takes a whole village. Our students are really involved in everything we do, as well as staff and parents in the community.”
Schools are rated based on green issues they address, quality of work and the percentage of the population involved in green activities. Depending on how many points the school receives, it can be rated green, emerald or evergreen, the highest rating.
JFK Principal Derek Adams is in his first year leading the school, and he said he was excited to be part of the school’s long-standing recycling program.
“I think it feels great just to be nominated an evergreen school, but to be No. 1 in the county really shows the kids that their hard work, and the parent and staff’s, that it counts for something and is recognized,” Adams said. “Everybody helps out and pitches in for each other. Our main focus is on teaching kids recycling and making it a commitment, both at school and home.”
Teaching the kids the importance of living a green life is one of the main reasons for the Green School committee, McNeil said. The committee is currently working on developing a beginner’s kit for next year’s kindergartners that teaches a waste-free lunch.
Sophie Vanderweele, a JFK sixth-grader, has started Share-a-Pair, in which students can donate used boots and cleats so other students can borrow them.
McNeil said she became interested in recycling in college and it has become a passion of hers in the years since. Starting all the green projects hasn’t been easy, but it will pay off in the end, when the things become second nature for everyone at the school.
“I think it is really important to starts kids young because it becomes part of their daily habits,” McNeil said. “I don’t think of recycling as something that sticks out anymore because it has become second nature even in this building with people using other sides of paper or using extra pages for scrap paper.
“I think we want it to be so they don’t think throwing the paper in the garbage, but throwing it in the recycling bin instead.”