Environmental Action Requires Faithful Vision
Students and teachers at Our Lady of the Lake School (OLL), Verona, Academy of the Holy Angels (AHA), Demarest, and Union Catholic Regional High School, Scotch Plains, are leading the charge to faithfully embrace green stewardship and lower carbon footprints in the Garden State.
OLL was a participant in the Green Flag/Green Faith pilot project for the 2006-2007 school year (see The Catholic Advocate, April 18, 2007). The statewide pilot project was designed to encourage environmental leadership and is a collaborative effort between Green Faith and the Virginia-based Center for Health, Environment and Justice.
While participating in the Green Flag/Green Faith program, non-toxic cleaners were introduced into the school maintenance system and information assemblies on the benefits of green cleaning products were held for students. OLL continues to recycle cans, glass, plastic and office/classroom paper. Electronics and ink/toner cartridges also are recycled.
Sister Jeanne Goyette, O.P., is the Earth Literacy teacher for a class of sixth grade students. The class covers topics such as global warming, pollution and alternative energy sources. Sr. Jeanne's class brought environmental education outside of the classroom with a field trip to Sandy Hook to study the ecosystem and wildlife.
"The class was split into groups and they studied the history of Sandy Hook, the wildlife such as the horseshoe crab and collected items in nets at the surf. The students went on another field trip to see solar panels with a monitoring system at a local funeral parlor. The children love their field trips and it gives them a chance to see what we learn in the classroom in a real-life situation," Sr. Jeanne explained.
Sr. Jeanne's students completed projects in an area they were interested in. "The children respond beautifully in their projects with topics from alternative energies in solar powered cars to non-toxic alternative forms of (plastic) packing peanuts."
The class also developed board games on environmental themes that were played with younger students. "The games were about different topics we discussed in class. For example, if you landed on a space that said you did not recycle, you went back two spaces. Some of the games had trivia questions about the environment. All of the students had fun playing the games while learning at the same time," Sr. Jeanne said.
Living in harmony with God's creation and being stewards of the environment is stressed in the Earth Literacy class. "The Earth is our home. If we don't do something to preserve our home, the future generation will be lost," Sr. Jeanne said. "God has gifted us with this beautiful land and we must work with the natural systems. It is our birthright to preserve this gorgeous planet. Sometimes we have class outside at Verona Park and the students have to write a prayer describing an object they found in nature. We pray everyday."
AHA also participated in the Green Flag/Green Faith project last year and the school continues to encourage community recycling and the social justice component of caring for the environment is integral to the school's mission. Kate Chambers, moderator of the Go Green! Club for the past two years, is also the school's mission integration coordinator.
"My job entails furthering our vision of education with the goals of the School Sisters of Notre Dame. One of our institutional goals is the commitment to the appreciation of creation," Chambers explained.
The Go Green! Club held an electronic waste recycling drive on May 10; the event was a major achievement for the AHA environmental club. Items such as computers, laptops, fax machines, copiers, printers and cell phones were donated.
"The 'e-waste' recycling drive was really successful. The local religious congregations and surrounding towns became involved. We drew in a lot of sources and the club extended their reach outside the school. Eight to 10 different towns participated," Chambers said.
AHA holds an annual environmental service day where the school community, including students, faculty and administration, help clean up areas such as the Alpine Boat Basin in Englewood and the Teaneck Creek Conservatory.
"The main office in the school was concerned with how long school buses and parents let their vehicles idle while waiting for the students. The parents took a pledge to not idle their cars that emit harmful gases into the air. The bus company also participated. There is definitely an atmosphere of social responsibility at the school," Chambers stressed.
Next year, Chambers said the Go Green! Club will focus on how to reduce each person's carbon footprint. "Through our use of fossil fuels and resources, we produce carbon that is harmful to the environment. From cars, to heating and our use of light, all the energy someone uses affects the damage done to the Earth. If everyone does something, we can reduce our carbon footprint significantly."
Union Catholic, in the early 1990s, was one of the first schools in the archdiocese to launch an environmental club. Marybeth Boyar, head of the school's science department, has been a teacher at Union Catholic since 1978 and remembers environmental classes being an important part of the curriculum since then. In 1997, the school received the Presidential Environmental Youth Award given by the US Environmental Protection Agency.
Today, Union Catholic recycles 389,000 aluminum cans, over 1 million pounds of paper, cardboard and newspaper and 16,402 pounds of plastic bottles each year. The school is also moving toward a paper-free environment where papers and homework are submitted online.
The students in the Environmental Club, about 100 actively involved members, supervise the collection of all recycled materials. "It's nice to say that your school recycles, but it is a hard-working process to keep that going. Students maintain the recycling centers throughout the school," Boyar explained.
Earth Awareness Week, from April 22-30, began with an Arbor Day celebration where a tree was planted in front of the building in honor of Pope Benedict XVI's visit to America. Instructors in all school subjects collaborate. "During Earth Awareness Week, we initiate cross-curriculum environmental discussions. For example, in social studies, students researched each presidential candidate's stance on environmental issues," Boyar said. "This past year, the discussion about the environment has intensified and the subjects are more diverse. There is prevalent information about the oil crisis, landfills and global warming. Kids are seeing the connection between academics and real life. Students can now look outside their immediate surroundings to see how environmental education has an effect on the rest of the world."
Boyar's husband Bill is the faculty moderator of the Environmental Club. He has been teaching science classes at Union Catholic for three years after over 30 years in the pharmaceutical industry. During Earth Awareness Week, his classes conducted labs where students created and built their own solar ovens.
"We tried to cook in them but it was very rainy and cloudy this May. The kids still loved building them. I enjoy showing kids how science can be used in the real world. I try to bring my experience to the courses," Bill Boyar said.
To pay for the needed building equipment, the Environmental Club sold patches and held a tag day. According to Bill Boyar, the children in the club participate in hands-on activities to show how they can make a difference. "The kids feel very proud of themselves (when they help out). If you want to save the Earth, you have to get things done," he said. "The students in the club plan their own activities. I want them to enjoy science. We need more good scientists in the world today and hopefully, there are a few future scientists in my classes."