D-E MS Gets Messy While Going Green

Contributed by Tasha Urbanowski, Sixth Grade Dean

D-E Composts! You may be wondering about the large green tumbler situated next to the exit gate by Schenck Auditorium – we haven’t placed trash bins is plain sight; we are being green, not trashy!

This initiative, which now saves hundreds of pounds of food waste from landfill annually, was started in the main cafeteria by the Upper School Environmental Club (the Lower School has had its own program for years). The Middle School Green Team expanded their program to become part of Middle School lunch duty so that all Middle School kids could compost, and therefore learn about sustainable lifestyles, as well as develop the daily habit of recycling in this basic way.

Sixth grade HomeBases, with funding from the Green Team walkathon, purchased our four tumblers, and one year constructed the kits as their service to the school on the Day of Action (they built a vegetable garden another year that uses the finished compost as fertilizer!). Upper School lunch duty got in on this action next, and now we are well on our way to solidifying an institutional habit that helps save the environment, contributes to the cafeteria’s designation as a green kitchen, educates young people about sustainable living habits, and feeds theschool’s vegetable garden soil — making many hands-on experiences for students in a variety of classes possible. So be proud of our bins when you pass them on your way out! Go D-E Green Team!

While the partially completed planting bed by the Umpleby parking lot was a “mess” for some time – an anomaly on our beautiful, well-tended campus – there were two reasons this new garden bed was an intentional and good mess:

1. The seventh and eighth grade DIG classes, with contribution from the Latin American Studies and eighth grade Advanced Spanish classes, engaged in project-based learning and cooperative problem-solving, using the garden bed as their primary classroom. The Maintenance department removed shrubs from the site before the students went to construct the beds, exploring hands-on questions such as:

“Why is a right angle useful and how do I create one?”

“How can we make something level?”

“Why is erosion bad and how can we prevent it?”

“Why do we make raised beds and are our reasons the same as those of the ancient cultures we are studying?”

“How do our methods and tools differ from those cultures we are studying?”

“How are they the same and why?”

“How much work is really involved in producing food?”

Since the students use a discovery method much of the time, they took more time over this project rather than being just told what to do. While this may be inefficient, the end-product of the bed was only part of our objective.

2. The bed, at each stage of its construction, served as a lab for the sixth grade service learning project. This new service learning project with the Englewood Center for Food Action (CFA) launched this year. The sixth grade learned about hunger and nutrition issues in New Jersey communities, and worked with the CFA – in partnership with the Englewood Third Street Community Garden – and America’s Grow-a-Row (AGAR) to plant a garden that will contribute fresh produce to CFA clients this summer.

Planting a successful garden involves a lot more than throwing some seeds in the ground, so students broke up into HomeBase groups and learned about different parts of the process on campus in the new bed. Then, on May 8, students in Mrs. Fetzer’s, Mrs. Segar’s and Mrs. Scrivanich’s HomeBases went to the garden to plant squash and bean seeds, amend soil and place labels they created, respectively. Jen Anderson from AJR Landscaping – which sponsored D-E – was present to help oversee the effort, as well as CFA Volunteer Coordinator Alan Kostelnik. On May 28, Mrs. Macone’s HomeBase went to the garden to transplant the seedlings that Mr. Fleisher’s HomeBase started in April. On May 22, the entire class took a full-day trip to help plant seeds with AGAR farm Peaceful Valley Orchards in Pittstown, NJ.

Note that our composting system will also play a part in contributing fertilizer for the CFA bed as well as our own! Our composting area is now complete, and subtlety teaching kids in all three divisions about sustainable habits. Hopefully, the bins can play the role of advertising this part of our curriculum to the community.

To learn more about AGAR or CFA — or to volunteer — please visit their websites: americasgrowarow.org or cfanj.org.

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