September 2011 Issue
August 31, 2011

Soda bottles, worms put to work

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT United
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A trio of East Northport middle school teachers are helping to turn their school into a green machine. Karen Polk, Matt Gorman and Andrew Luberto started the after-school Environmental Action Club. In three years, the group has started school-wide paper, plastic and cellphone recycling programs; they began harvesting worms to make compost; and built a small greenhouse out of soda bottles.

"We focus on environmental issues, but we integrate all academic subjects, too," said Karen Polk, a member of United Teachers of Northport. The educators launched the club after a student asked Polk why the school did not recycle. Club members research, write articles, and design posters and dioramas of eco-systems to support and promote their work. Gorman, also a member of the UTN, offers science expertise to the group.

Polk had an additional assignment this summer: She was "house sitting" specialized red worms. Students this fall will use the nutrient-filled worm waste in the school garden. "We want kids to understand the life cycle and how we are all part of the chain of life, and food, from the smallest to the biggest creatures," Polk said.

The Environmental Action Club used a grant from the Western Suffolk BOCES to purchase and install sensor lights in school bathrooms. They made signs to put above light switches in each classroom, reminding people to turn off lights when they are the last to leave a room.

The club also started a school campaign to encourage students to use reusable metal water bottles instead of plastic ones. Students researched companies that make the metal bottles to compare cost and quality, had bottles imprinted with the school logo, and sold them to raise money and awareness.

A project to recycle old cell phones showed students the practicality of recycling. The phones were sent to a women's shelter, where they can be used to dial 911.

Teacher and UTN member Andrew Luberto worked with students to build a small greenhouse using plastic, two-liter soda bottles. Club members worked with students from the high school technology class, who built a wooden frame for the greenhouse.

Up next: Club members plan to reuse cereal boxes and paper towel and toilet paper holders to build an indoor clubhouse for elementary students.

Greenways provides classroom resources, information about grants and contests, and a space for stories about educators who are improving school environments in creative ways to help districts save money, reduce waste, recycle, educate students and help the planet.

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