The Student Environmental Action Society (SEAS) hosted Central High School’s annual Earth Day celebration on May 28, 2015. This year’s event returned with aquatic-themed discussions as volunteers came to speak about how their careers make a local impact on the environment. Central housed festivities like interactive booths on the patio, the Veggie Cafe, and games for the students.
Francine Locke, Environmental Director of the School District of Philadelphia (SDP), came to speak to classes. She is responsible for developing and implementing environmental health programs to improve physical conditions of schools for children to have a better learning experience.
Behind the action of the Earth Day festivities was a roundtable meeting conducted in the teachers’ lounge. Attendees discussed the SDP’s plans for moving forward to become more eco-friendly. Locke introduced the GreenFutures plan, a proposal to make the SDP more environmentally sustainable.
This plan calls for the creation of a district-wide sustainable network of schools. Ideally, every student should have equitable access to a green schoolyard, energy saving utilities, a waste minimizing system that diverts waste from landfills, a school that obeys the School Wellness Policy (a set of guidelines requiring the SDP to promote student health and well-being), and a school that integrates environmental sustainability into its education plans. Schools will have access to their energy usage reduction data to help recognize individual achievement and long term impact. GreenFutures will be proposed to the SDP for the 2015-2016 school year. If it is implemented, it will help convert nearly three hundred buildings to meet these environmental standards.
This multi-year program is estimated to cost a lot of money. About four billion dollars would be needed just to upgrade and restore the SDP’s many aging school buildings. Many organizations are willing to help contribute to this cost. For example, the Philadelphia Water Department offers five grants per year to schools to improve schoolyard infrastructure conditions.
“I loved meeting with teachers, students, staff, and parents about the SDP’s sustainability efforts and hearing about all of the good work being done at CHS,” Locke recollected. “Particularly, I was inspired by the questions about the sustainability plan and how it’s being developed. There is much more work to be done, but I know for sure that we have to listen to the students if we want to get this right.”
Central has been successful in becoming more environmentally sustainable. There is a recycling program in place and the lighting systems have been upgraded to meet more eco-friendly standards. Science teacher and sponsor of SEAS, Galeet Cohen (256), stated, “I feel that this is the year that Earth Day really became what I was hoping it would be for our school. [It was] an opportunity for students to initiate projects and changes that can take hold within the building and act as pilots for the entire district.”
Cohen stated that students are learning from the experience of handling a bureaucracy as large as the SDP. She said, “When students try to improve waste management in our school by increasing compliance with the recycling program or working with a composting service to keep our food waste out of landfills, they find out how intractable human behavior can be and how many layers of bureaucracy can sometimes be involved with what seems like a superficially simple change.”
Cohen also gave insight into particular projects that students have worked on in the past year as well as plans for the future.
“Other students did a thorough survey of sinks and determined that most lack aerators,” which are apparati that reduce the water flow through sinks by mixing it with air. “Installing aerators can decrease CHS water usage by about fifty percent. CHS will also likely be included in a pilot program to use compostable trays in the cafeteria rather than styrofoam because of work spearheaded by Jakub Zegar (274) and his group members. In both projects, students had to contend with cost limitations and personnel limitations that can stall seemingly simple changes. Both of those projects got noticed by Francine Locke and included in the upcoming GreenFutures plan that the SDP will release.”
Among other students who have set out to change the school is Ashish Dahal (275). He tried to implement a composting program at Central using the organic cafeteria food waste; however, SDP stipulations considered that the program could eliminate union jobs, and it was rejected. Regardless, Dahal still contracted a company to make compost using the Veggie Cafe waste.
Recyclebank, a company that encourages environmentally-friendly habits, has awarded SEAS grants to improve the conditions of Central. Projects such as reclaiming gardening pots on the patio have transpired. Anjanique Julius (275), Secretary of SEAS, remarked how Earth Day was beneficial for bringing together the community: “This year, SEAS wanted to focus on the aquatic conflicts and controversies occurring in the world for Earth Day. Numerous Central clubs and organizations came together to help successfully promote awareness and action towards the maritime conflicts. SEAS would love to unite even more clubs and organizations for the next Central Earth Day.”
Central’s Earth Day tradition continues to reflect environmental importance. SEAS will continue to provide environmental awareness and protection in Central and through local efforts, while the SDP has Philadelphia anticipating a greener future.
Further information for the GreenFutures plan will be announced at a development workshop for SDP educators on September 1, 2015.
Brian Davis (275)