Something’s rotten at Hillsboro’s Tobias Elementary School. But that’s OK, because things are supposed to be rotten — in the compost bins, that is.

“Something’s Rotten at Tobias” is the name of a grand experiment in food scrap composting that got started at the beginning of the school year. Aptly named by principal Steve Callaway, the “Something’s Rotten” project lets the fifth- and sixth-graders in Andrea Schlechter and Jennifer LeCorre’s class get a little, well, rotten while they’re HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTOS: KATHY FULLER - Eric Sanchez and Brady Job check the temperature of the compost bin at Tobias Elementary School.

Schlechter and LeCorre, who team-teach in a blended classroom, applied for and won a $2,700 grant last spring from the Hillsboro Schools Foundation to build and maintain compost bins at the school.

“We got the idea at outdoor school,” Schlechter said, where all of the kitchen’s food scraps were composted on site. Students in sixth-grade attend several days of outdoor school where they learn about the natural COURTESY PHOTO: ANDREA SCHLECHTER - Teachers Jennifer LeCorre and Andrea Schlechter dressed in veggie costumes to help teach students at Tobias Elementary how to recycle fruit and vegetable scraps properly.

“We thought, ‘If they can do it, we can do it,’” Schlechter said. So the teaching team went online and found all the information necessary to build and maintain a composting system.

Over the summer, Schlechter, LeCorre and a small team of helpers built the compost bins to specifications and were ready to go on the first day of school last September. They also bought shovels, a thermometer and a heavy-duty scale to help with tracking the amount of waste being composted and the temperature of the compost.

It’s a school-wide effort, Schlechter explained. Grounds crews saved fallen leaves on campus, used to mix “brown” materials in with “green” to achieve a proper ratio in the compost mixture.

As a part of a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) focus, the compost bins give the whole student body an opportunity to learn about composting and help make a difference at their school.

Schlechter and LeCorre enlisted the help of their pupils to teach all the students the proper way to empty their food trays in the cafeteria. First, the milk cartons get recycled, a hugely successful district-wide effort to cut down on waste. Then, students dump any leftover fruits or veggies into the big collection bucket. Finally, they dump any other leftover waste into the garbage.

Schlechter’s students take turns each week hauling the scraps to outdoors composting bins adjacent to the kitchen. They carefully weigh the scraps, take the temperature of the compost pile and enter the information into the notebook. Then they cover the fruits and veggies with brown leaves.

On a recent Friday, sixth-graders Eric Sanchez and Brady Job worked as a team to haul about 49 pounds of scraps to the bins, happily forfeiting their recess time. A recent tally indicated the school has composted nearly a ton of fruit and veggie scraps, keeping them out of the waste stream.

As for the tiny fruit flies busily at work and the earthy smell emanating from the bins, the boys just shrugged off what some might consider “rotten.”

“You get used to it,” Job said.

Once the compost is “done,” Schlechter said, she’s got plans for a more comprehensive project at Tobias. She and LeCorre have written two grants they hope will help fund a small garden.

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