Snoqualmie Elementary goes green

Chloe King reacts to the stench of Snoqualmie Elementary’s worm bin as Sadie Woolf dumps food scraps into it for composting. Along with Amanda Antoch, who held open the lid, the fourth-graders are learning about sustainable practices through SES’s award-winning Green Schools Program. - Denise Miller / Snoqualmie Valley Record
Chloe King reacts to the stench of Snoqualmie Elementary’s worm bin as Sadie Woolf dumps food scraps into it for composting. Along with Amanda Antoch, who held open the lid, the fourth-graders are learning about sustainable practices through SES’s award-winning Green Schools Program.
— image credit: Denise Miller / Snoqualmie Valley Record

A trio of fourth-graders held their noses as they dumped food waste into a worm bin at Snoqualmie Elementary School’s courtyard. Smelly as the task was, the girls’ appreciation of the environmental importance of composting spurred their enthusiasm to complete it. It’s all thanks to the education they receive as part of the school’s award-winning participation in King County’s Green Schools Program. At lunch, students and teachers dump food scraps into bowls, understanding that instead of being added to piles of garbage, their waste will help create rich soil.

Composting is one of many sustainable practices that has earned SES the county’s Earth Hero at School honor; representatives from the school will accept an award at a ceremony led by King County Executive Ron Sims the afternoon of Thursday, April 24.

Since SES teachers, administrators and parent volunteers started a waste reduction and recycling program last spring, the school has reduced its waste output by 60 percent. Perhaps more importantly, it’s raised environmental awareness among both students and adults, and given children a sense of ownership and pride in their school, said fifth-grade teacher and “Green Team” participant Bill Hayden.

“When kids are physically involved in making this school a nicer place by picking up litter and by schlepping these recycling bins, they can look themselves in the mirror and say, ‘I’m really part of what makes this a strong school community,’” Hayden said.


“I just like helping the school and I care about the earth a lot,” said fourth-grader Haley Huntzinger, who had just finished hauling a load of paper to one of many recycling bins. “Recycling helps our earth, and helps about global warming.”

Other students are just as excited to take turns collecting recyclables around the school; thanks to informational stickers on the containers, everyone on campus knows exactly what can and can’t be put in the green bins.

“The students have a great attitude about it. We have a lot of volunteers,” said Principal Cori Pflug.

Student volunteers have also made posters about the new milk carton recycling program in the lunchroom, and help monitor their peers’ recycling.


The school is also focusing on re-using resources. For example, Greenough’s students cut and glue together one-sided sheets of paper to make notepads.

“Instead of just recycling it right away, let’s re-use it one more time and get all the use out of it,” Greenough said.

Each week on “Waste-free Wednesdays,” students are encouraged to bring their lunch in re-usable containers to reduce waste.

“If you’re going to have chips, let’s get the big bag and put them in a re-usable container, take it home, and wash it, and then we don’t have garbage,” Greenough said. The hope is that making the special effort on Wednesdays will eventually lead to automatic waste-saving behavior on all days of the week.

Jacque Gardner, the school’s PTSA president and a “Green Team” member, said her children sometimes chide her to use sustainable practices.

“If I put a sandwich in a plastic bag instead of Tupperware, they’ll remind me. It’s great!” she said.

Future goals

The “Green Team” isn’t resting on their sustainably-grown laurels. They meet regularly to brainstorm new ways to help the school help the environment.

“The idea is not just to do more recycling, but to raise awareness with all of us about what that means, and how can we look at this in our own lives,” Pflug said.

One plan is to institute a no-idling policy in the school parking lot to reduce air pollution from cars.

“We’re ordering signs and they’ll be out to raise awareness with the parents,” Pflug said. She’s also working with the school district to install energy-saving automatic-sensor lights in classrooms that don’t already have them, and trying to get a greenhouse installed on campus.

“With composting, we could use that soil to feed the greenhouse, and it would be the whole sustainability aspect of recycling. The kids could see it from start, and how it ends,” Greenough said.

The team also hopes to increase teachers’ use of the wetlands adjacent to the school for environmental education as they integrate students’ understanding of green practices with science class materials.

Hayden has his fifth-graders do simple, hands-on exercises like closely examining a tree branch to learn about its biology.

“That’s really important, this idea of connecting with our world by taking a little bit of time and looking closely. Then they start appreciating it,” he said.

Ripple effect

The “Green Team” has worked with teachers from other schools, including fellow “Earth Hero” Erin Spiess of Chief Kanim Middle School, to get recycling programs started.

“I want us to go to the next level, where every school is recycling, every student and every parent is participating,” third grade teacher Gretchen Hinds said.

The team also hopes their own students will take lessons learned with them to middle school and beyond.

“Kids are really going to be the leaders of the next generation, and they’re going to take what they learned to heart. They’ll remember, ‘Oh yeah, we recycled in our elementary school.’ It’s going to carry forth generation after generation. It’s a ripple effect, which is really exciting,” Hinds said.

Teamwork at the school has been key to making it all happen.

“People not only have to be vocally in support, but also physically in support. We have a team of teachers, parents, administrators, and janitors on board, and the district’s on board,” Hayden said.

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