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Students lead recycling efforts, do waste audits, garden and model other eco-friendly habits

PMG PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Jacob Buren, Emmitt Ollila, Ella Valt Case and Karley Karlgaard, members of the West Oreint Middle School Green Team, take a break from gathering the schools recycling. More than a billion people around the planet will celebrate Earth Day on Monday, April 22, but for the Green Team at West Orient Middle School and other area schools, every day is Earth Day.

Students on the teams work to make sure their schools are doing everything they can to nurture and protect the planet.

"I'm on the Green Team to help the environment," said Karley Karlgaard, a sixth grader at West Orient.

Claire Wilson, another West Orient sixth grader, observed that "it's good to recycle."

The students manage the school's recycling efforts, take part in special projects and help educate other kids on the importance of green-friendly practices. The West Orient Middle School Green Team, which meets every Tuesday after school, typically has 15 to 20 students.

"I had to limit it because there is a lot of interest," said Alyson Mack, an eighth grade science and STEAM teacher and advisor to the Wolverines' Green Team.

PMG PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Kyrsten Sommer, a sixth-grader at West Orient Middle School, collects paper from a classroom to be recycled. The city of Gresham supports schools in their environmental efforts with guidance, training and more.

Meghan Borato, the city of Gresham's waste reduction specialist, said "the students are our future and we are trying to arm them with information about sustainability, waste reduction and recycling."

The city is especially interested in working with schools, she added, "because they (students) will be the agents of change within our schools and in our community."

Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach at schools, the city follows the interests of the adult advisor and students.

"Powell Valley (elementary) is interested in gardens. Highland (elementary) focuses on energy," Borato said.

While all the local school districts are enthusiastic supporters of green efforts, Borato had special praise for the Gresham-Barlow School District.

"We've had a huge partnership with them, particularly on composting," she said. "All the Gresham-Barlow schools compost in both the cafeteria and the kitchen, which may be a first for the state."

COURTESY PHOTO: JESSICA RAMEY, CITY OF GRESHAM  - Representatives from Meadows Elementary School attended the Oregon Green Schools Summit in Sliverton earlier in April. West Orient has just one of more than a dozen "official" green teams in local schools. Other schools have sustainability efforts, but are not necessarily organized into formal Green Teams.

The teams work to reduce waste and use energy and resources such as water more efficiently. The work has a notable impact both on team members and other students at the school.

The Green Team members "have a sense of pride in the efforts they are making to make a difference," said Tadd Gestrin, assistant principal of West Orient, adding that the students are "developing their understanding that can help empower them in the future."

Planetary care

Borato said the students on the Green Teams build leadership skills and become role models in school.

"Being on the Green Team is a point of pride," she said. "The students are also gaining actual skills in recycling. It blows my mind to see the knowledge of the elementary school kids."

West Orient sixth grader Kyrsten Sommer has a looser take on the Green Team.

"I think it's fun," she said, grinning.

Isabella O'Brien, a seventh grader at West Orient, said she tries to help other students understand the importance of keeping planet Earth clean.

"When I see someone throw a wrapper or something on the ground I pick it up and give them the (you can do better) stare," O'Brian said.

Local student teams lead recycling efforts at schools, work in school gardens, create worm bins, conduct waste audits, and distribute signs, equipment and supplies in the schools. Students oversee the composting programs in school cafeterias and other efforts.

PMG PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Students on the West Orient Green Team screen print team shirts reusing old T-shirts. "They are responsible for picking up and sorting the recycling from all the classrooms," said Mack, of the West Orient team.

The group puts the redeemable beverage containers in special bags and uses the money to fund school activities.

"They brainstorm and carry out different projects," Mack said.

One of those is a Mason Bee nest for a nature trail behind the school that a West Orient Green Team created a few years ago. They've put up signs reminding students what can be recycled and what belongs in the trash, Mack noted.

The West Orient Green Team students also have gone on a field trip to learn about Gresham's stormwater system, and four students just recently attended a statewide Green Team Summit.

The meaning of green

The Oregon Green Schools Association supports school programs to recycle, reduce waste, save energy and conserve water. Founded in 1997, the association provides waste audits, training, assistance, curriculum recommendations and guidance for funding, provide recognition and lead events for about 300 participating schools.

The association sponsors an annual summit for the students and their school advisors. This year's was recently held in Silverton.

"They're introduced to the idea of networking," Borato said of the event in which students share what they are doing and glean ideas from other schools.

West Orient seventh grader Jacob Buren, who attended the summit, said "we got a lot of ideas." He was particularly interested in what other schools were doing with gardens.

"We're thinking about that" for West Orient, he said.

The entire Green Team effort benefits the participating students, the school, the community and the planet, those involved said.

"It's a huge opportunity to get kids engaged in something positive and educational," Mack said.

PMG PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - His work is done. Emmitt Ollila gets the recycle behind the school where it will be picked up by the hauler.

PMG PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - The West Orient Green Team shirts are drying after being screen printed by the students.

PMG PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Barlow High School funds scholarships and keeps redeemables out of the waste stream with their collection efforts. Here Patricia Neuenschwander, coordinator fo the college and career center, with students Libby Mathis and Conner Aberle.

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