Seven WLCSD schools receive eco-friendly designation

By: Andy Kozlowski | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published June 18, 2020

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WALLED LAKE — Seven schools in the Walled Lake Consolidated Schools District have achieved Michigan Green School status this year, an honor that recognizes their efforts promoting eco-friendly habits and good stewardship of the environment. The designation is given by the Michigan Green Schools nonprofit group. Its goal is to work with local schools to protect the state’s air, land, water and animals.

There are several different “environmental stewardship designations” based on criteria such as the number of activities fulfilled. These include activities grouped into the four categories of recycling, energy, environmental protection and miscellaneous activities.

To achieve Green School status, at least 10 total activities are required; for Emerald School status there is a requirement of at least 15 activities; and for the elite Evergreen School status, at least 20 activities are required.

The schools recognized in the WLCSD include Hickory Woods Elementary, Keith Elementary and Walled Lake Western High schools, which achieved Evergreen status; Pleasant Lake Elementary, Sarah Banks Middle School and Walled Lake Northern High School, which achieved Emerald status; and Oakley Park Elementary School, which achieved Green status.

Leaders at each school were asked via email about the direction they took for this designation.

Kristin Froning, the principal at Oakley Park Elementary, said the students at her school recycled paper-based materials such as newspapers and magazines for project use in the art room. Part of the fourth-grade science curriculum educated students on the effects of road salt use on the environment, while fifth-grade students attended a camp where they studied how the Lake Huron watershed affects the landscape around southeast Michigan.

“At Oakley Park, we’re always mindful of how to be good stewards of our environment,” she said. “We teach and practice habits of recycling and reducing waste throughout the school year.”

At Sarah Banks Middle School, students learned about conserving energy and reducing, reusing and recycling materials. There is an outdoor classroom that explores these concepts, as well as a classroom hydroponics system, and lessons on creating green energy plans for students’ homes that reduce their carbon footprint. The students went on a field trip to the Wixom wastewater treatment plant to learn about how their everyday actions add up to affect the Earth overall.

“We recognize the importance of teaching our students to be environmentally friendly, and to work toward conservation of resources,” said Michelle Kalhorn, the principal of Sarah Banks.

Keith Elementary was one of the schools to receive the top designation of Evergreen, and it has received this designation each year since the 2015-16 school year. The school features such initiatives as the Keith Giving Garden, the Keith Green Team, and the Taste of the Garden event, as well as a recycling project for Earth Day, planting tree saplings and more.

“I am beyond thrilled to have once again received the recognition as an Evergreen School,” said Marci Augenstein, the principal of Keith Elementary. “Teaching our children about ways they can be environmentally conscious is very important to our school community. The help of our amazing Keith PTA should not go unnoticed either.”

Hickory Woods Elementary was another school to achieve Evergreen status. The school has Waste Free Wednesdays for promoting the use of reusable items in a student’s lunch from home, and Trayless Tuesdays, where all lunches are served without a tray. The school’s Green Team makes reusable bags from old T-shirts, and the school donates gently used school supplies to a village in Africa. The school also maintains a nature center with sustainable plants, and recycles items such as paper, batteries, small electronics, lightbulbs, ink cartridges and Styrofoam.

“Being eco-minded is extremely important to us as a building and district,” said Patricia Chinn, the principal of Hickory Woods Elementary. “The Green Schools program is the catalyst for our kids, but the ideas that they come up with and the passion that they show towards changing our world is admirable. We are creating future sustainability leaders through this work and our partnership with the Green Schools initiative.”

The good work extends to the high school level too. Kim Chumney, a science teacher and sponsor of the Eco Club at Walled Lake Western High, spoke to how Western High achieved the coveted Evergreen status. The Eco Club there meets bimonthly, and over the last few years the group has been working on a plastic bottle greenhouse. The first two years were dedicated to collecting and prepping the bottles, removing the labels and lids and cutting off the bottoms so that they can slide into each other and be strung together. Now those materials are part of the ongoing process of building the greenhouse itself.

Students in the Eco Club have also worked on making birdhouses and feeders for the school’s outdoor classroom. They conduct research on native and invasive plants of Michigan and have helped the school plant gardens in the spring. And in the classroom they learn about alternative energy resources, global warming and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, as well as engaging in activities on indoor and outdoor air pollution, solid waste, agriculture, water pollution, and more.

“Given the different techniques that we are using in and out of the classroom, students are gaining knowledge about their world, both problems and solutions. The idea is to give students the tools and experiences to decide for themselves what changes, if any, they may want to make in their own lives,” Chumney said. “Most students tell me that they never realized how we impact our world. Some decide to make small changes, some large (changes) — and some try to instill change in others.”