Back in August when the school staff returned for two weeks of professional development and preparation for the new school year, Mr. Pearce began by setting us all a task. We had to write down on post-it notes our thoughts and feelings about why we became teachers and why we value it as a profession.
The wall quickly filled up with all sorts of inspiring reminders of why we do this job, but among the several recurring themes, one in particular stood out to me. A significant number of us had referred to ‘the future’, ‘our world’, ‘a changing society’ and feelings that there was a responsibility to equip children with the skills to be successful in a world that is likely to look very different in the years ahead. When working with children so closely on very specific steps of their journey through school, it is so important that we don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. With a scientific consensus that our actions are having a negative impact on our environment in profound and irreversible ways, it is vital that children have the tools that will not only enable them to be successful and valued members of society, but learn from the mistakes made by previous generations.
This was certainly one of the driving forces behind a group of teachers and staff forming the BISC-LP Eco-Council back in October 2016, with the aim of achieving the Eco-Schools USA awards. The awards themselves are simply a means of adding structure, guidance and something tangible to work towards. The real success of becoming an Eco-School will be demonstrated through our choices, attitudes and behaviors as a community and as individuals.
We convened our first Eco-Council meeting with a small group of staff, some excited children and several enthusiastic parents. It quickly became evident that this was going to be much more challenging than ensuring lights were switched off and our paper was put into the recycling. Just as the values curriculum has taken two years of teaching and discussion to blossom into one of our guiding stars here at BISC-LP, it was clear that to truly become an Eco-School, rather than just check the boxes and get the certificates, it was going to take time, cooperation and some very honest reflection that we may not always be comfortable with. Reminding children of the importance of recycling loses meaning if adults are filling the trash can with unrecyclable Starbucks cups every day. Can we teach children topics about climate change and saving the rainforest with integrity if adults are using the elevator to travel up and down one floor? Such questions are what we will have to wrestle with if our actions are to match our words.
After establishing an Eco-Council, the next step of the process was to find out exactly what was already happening around the school. Plans were put together to create a garden area on the roof, staff were keen to ensure every room had recycling facilities, along with an enormous amount of education for sustainability taking place that had been woven into the IPC topics throughout the school. The values curriculum, along with Nord Anglia’s UN Global Goals collaboration provided yet more evidence that there was already plenty happening for our Eco-Schools initiative to partner with, borrow from and celebrate.
Still with plenty to do before we could legitimately call ourselves an Eco-School, we were able to look back on the first year with plenty of lessons learned and some steps in the right direction to cheer. We could be proud of an emerging culture of reducing and recycling in classrooms, as well as children growing and eating their own vegetables in the school garden for the first time at BISC-LP.
It was clear from the first meeting of this school year that 2017/18 was to be the year that the Eco-Council rolled their sleeves up and aimed to achieve our first certification. Becoming more focused, strategic and improving communication were priorities as it was decided that we would tackle the issue of waste as our primary goal through the fall.
So far, this has seen a school-wide waste audit taking place with each class sorting and measuring the weight of each material in their waste streams. It has also taken into account administration offices and communal spaces such as the canteen. The process has engaged the entire school and sparked curiosity about where our waste comes from and where it goes. It has provided us with a useful baseline against which to form a waste action plan. The action plan will see us work together with the building management team and our colleagues at Quest Food Management to see where we can reduce the amount of waste we currently send to landfill. There are already plenty of exciting ideas being discussed and it’s wonderful to see children and colleagues who may not usually work together collaborating to solve a shared problem. Beyond this, we now have a real world, relevant data set that class teachers can use to great effect in math lessons.
In December, I will be accompanying a group of students to visit children and staff at the Academy for Global Citizenship. They are the only school in Chicago to have achieved Eco-Schools Green Flag status and they have invited us along to share ideas and tips on how we might become the second school in the city to receive the award. In January we hope to expand our attention to the issue of how we use energy in school, after which we would hope to become eligible for the Eco-Schools Bronze Award.
The Nord Anglia philosophy encourages us to ‘be ambitious’ and become internationally minded. Here at BISC-LP we are doing our very best to champion these virtues and I believe nothing demonstrates them better than our journey towards becoming a certified Eco-School.
-Alex Hinde, Science Specialist Teacher and Eco-Council leader