AREA - Students at three schools in the Archdiocese of Newark are learning valuable lessons on faithfully protecting the Earth and its environment.
Our Lady of the Lake School (OLL) in Verona, Resurrection School in Jersey City and Demarest's Academy of the Holy Angels High School were selected to participate in a yearlong collaborative statewide pilot project designed to encourage environmental leadership.
The Green Flag/Green Faith project is designed to involve students and adults in the investigation of their schools to identify potential environmental health and safety issues, find solutions and advocate school-wide reforms to make the environment greener, safer and healthier.
Green Flag/Green Faith is a collaborative effort between Green Faith and the Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ). Headquartered in Falls Church, VA, just outside the nation's capital, CHEJ (Web site: www.chej.org) works to empower groups to protect their communities from the health risks posed by contamination of the soil, air, water and food. It does so by providing organizational, technical and research assistance.
As New Jersey's interfaith coalition for the environment, Green Flag/Green Faith educates and mobilizes people of diverse spiritual backgrounds to deepen their relationship with the sacred in nature and restore the environment for future generations. With each positive step, the Green Flag program presents awards to a school and its students culminating in presentation of a Green Flag Award for Environmental Leadership.
Four primary areas form the foundation of the project: reduce, reuse and recycle; non-toxic products; indoor air quality and, finally, integrated pest management.
At OLL, Sister Jeanne Goyette, O.P., the school's Earth Literacy instructor and Green Flag coordinator, stressed the spiritual and ecumenical aspects of the pilot project. "It fosters environmental issues in a faith-based atmosphere," she said. Sister Jeanne, in her sixth grade classroom, focuses on the environment from a faith perspective fostering an understanding of the universe and its universality throughout creation.
"The Earth has a lot to teach us about living in harmony," Sister Jeanne pointed out.
"I have learned that I have more to more about the environment" said Sister Mary Agnes Sullivan, O.P., the principal at OLL.
OLL has a Green Flag committee of school personnel and several students. Committee members meet regularly with Stacey Kennealy, Green Flag/Green Faith's project coordinator. Discussions center on environmental issues and what direction a school should move in based on its progress. The priority now at OLL is non-toxic cleaning materials. Last month the school held a "green cleaners vendor fair" for home and industrial users.
Student members of the OLL Green Flag Committee have definite opinions on their environmental future. Seventh grader Amanda Inacio feels it is important to "keep the environment safe." Stressing "trees keep us alive," she emphasized the need to recycle. "Now is the future," declared eighth grade student Julia Prout. Sixth grade committee member Kerry Murphy was concerned that if action is not taken now the Earth "will be ruined."
Sister Eleanor Uhl, O.P. of the administrative team at Resurrection School, along with Sister Barbara Nesbihal, S.C., is impressed with the environmental interest and savvy of the students. Stressing that Resurrection School is a "peaceable school," the Green Faith project fit in "beautifully," she noted. At Resurrection School there are bins for reusable and recyclable paper. The amount of material tossed in refuse receptacles, she noted, has been reduced significantly.
The program at Resurrection School has two student representatives. Part of their responsibility is to chart the recycling efforts of each class and rate their performance. Reaching beyond the school, a bulletin is sent out that contains a "Green Tip" for families and the home.
Becoming part of the Green Flag program, explained Academy of the Holy Angels coordinator Kate Chambers, gave the school the "impetus" to implement steps "we wanted to do all along." Recycling was reinstituted at the high school for paper, glass, aluminum and plastic. Green Flag officials lent their expertise by conducting a waste audit.
What Chambers described as "educational efforts" are also under way. Environmental messages are sent out over the public address system and members of the school's Environmental Club provide information to all the classes. Last month an Awareness Day program was held featuring 16 workshops and former Vice President Al Gore's Oscar winning film on the threatened environment, "An Inconvenient Truth."
Academy of the Holy Angels has also gone "green" with the use of non-toxic floor stripper and floor waxing materials. On another front, parents and school bus drivers were asked and have agreed not to let their engines idol when dropping off and picking up students. Chambers also cited the efforts of the secretarial staff in the main office.
When reviewing applications for the pilot project in the Garden State, according to Kennealy, criterion included "level of commitment, the ability to be successful and potential to become a role model for other schools." The archdiocesan schools have done "very, very well" on all fronts she stressed.