Not much goes to waste any more at Nottingham Elementary, thanks to the determination of a team of PTA parents who have energized students and staff to see and act upon recycling opportunities throughout this Spring Branch ISD school.
Five years ago, materials for recycling and compost bins were purchased with grant money from Shell Oil Company, and were then installed by several Girl Scout troops and oil company volunteers during a campus workday at Nottingham.
With additional funding from the Nottingham PTA, raised vegetable garden beds were also built and fruit trees planted.
Under the guidance of Nottingham parent and environmental engineer, Ruth Parks, the recycling program at Nottingham has grown into a school-wide effort to repurpose as much trash as possible.
“My goal has been to make recycling a normal, everyday way of life for the students here,” said Parks.
Many recycling activities are in place throughout the school and have been embraced by students from all demographics.
A Food Share refrigerator (donated by a student from her bedroom!) has been installed for students to put unused drinks, yogurt, vegetable packets and fruit from their breakfasts and lunches. Anyone who would like an extra serving of what is on the Food Share shelves can take one.
“After breakfast, the refrigerator is pretty full,” said Student Support Specialist Susan Hansen, who keeps tabs on the Food Share program. “By the end of the day, there is usually nothing left in there.”
Students are learning to put non-cooked, plant-based waste such as apple cores, banana peels and vegetables into buckets attached to cafeteria trash cans. Safety patrol members empty the buckets into the compost bins.
“I took a group of kindergarten students out to see the compost pile,” said Hansen. “They saw bees and bugs working over the scraps, and had a simple science lesson (about what it takes to break down waste into soil).”
A student named Gavin explained. “It takes about three weeks for the orange peels, apples and everything to become decomposed soil,” he said. “I saw some bugs chewing away out there.”
The soil generated from the compost bins brings rich nutrients to the six vegetable gardens on the school property (one for each grade). Teachers have used the gardens’ rows and numbers of seeds to make math problems come alive.
The gardens have been a great place for recent immigrant students to bridge language gaps.
“This is a way to bring out the talents of students who might not otherwise have a place to shine,” said Kelly Borally, math and science interventionist at Nottingham. “They show others how to garden, and have become leaders at our school.”
Last year, corn, sweet potatoes and cabbage grown in the gardens were utilized to make treats for students.
“The popcorn was a big hit,” said Parks. “I also made several sweet potato pies and the kitchen staff made coleslaw from the cabbage.”
Recycling bins are located in each grade-level area to make it easy for staff and students to add materials during the week. In the teacher workroom, a large bin is available for paper scraps, and smaller ones are in place for batteries and light bulbs.
The Parks family, including fourth-grader Zachary and his dad, empty the bins throughout the school once a week.
Several teachers have used the recycling program for Project Based Learning (PBL) modules, hands-on projects where students work together to solve real-life problems. PBL’s are in place school-wide as part of Nottingham’s School Redesign program that establishes new ways to personalize learning for students.
In fall 2018, Nottingham second-graders studied recycling as a PBL. Through their own research and hearing from industry experts, students learned what can and cannot be recycled or composted. For instance, second-grade teacher Anne Thomeer had students observe how long it took for an apple vs a piece of Styrofoam to break down to reinforce the concept.
The second-grade students also made centerpiece artwork from recycled materials to decorate the cafeteria for the school’s Thanksgiving Feast, when parents came to the school to eat a meal with their children.
Nottingham’s 2019 Teacher of the Year, Lindsay Ripley, collects donated and recycled materials for art projects. Current projects include colorful bird sculptures being made by second-graders (based on the work of sculptor Barbara Kobylinska) and crafted from water bottles, wire, foil and paper mache.
Several students in an after-school art group are also using repurposed materials to makeover a golf cart into a dragon for the upcoming Houston Art Car Parade. The winning design, drawn by a Nottingham student, is based on the work of paper mache artist Dan Reeder.
Fifth-grade science teacher Melanie Marshall also enthusiastically uses the compost bins and gardens to facilitate students’ understanding of the differences between producers, consumers and decomposers.
“We’ve even seen rabbits out in the garden,” said Marshall. “Students are also seeing caterpillars and chrysalises [from various species] in action there.”
Another parent volunteer involved with Nottingham’s recycling program, Melanie Ehrens, is an architect from The Netherlands who said that “Europe is ahead of the U.S. in making recycling a way of life.”
Erhens is happy to see that Nottingham students are taking the recycling messages to their parents, so it can become a way of life not only at school but at home as well. She looks forward to helping school leaders with incorporating recycling practices into the design of the new Nottingham Elementary, on tap for replacement within the next few years as part of the 2017 Bond program.
Heading up the cycle of recycling at Nottingham brings lot of satisfaction to Ms. Parks.
“One time I pulled a carrot from the garden and showed it to a student,” she said. “You would have thought I had done the greatest magic trick ever [based on the student’s reaction]. That’s what makes it all worth it.”
By Becky Wuerth, SBISD Communications