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High School students hold district accountable for lack of districtwide sustainability efforts

COURTESY PHOTO  - The LOHS Green Team helped sort classmates trash during a waste audit in 2019. Having shouldered the responsibility of climate action in their schools alone, students from both high schools in Lake Oswego asked the school board to consider sustainability efforts across the district.

Members of both Lake Oswego High School and Lakeridge High School Green Teams presented to the board Tuesday, Jan. 14, about the progress they've made towards more sustainable schools and asked the board to step up in a partnership to make sustainability a priority.

Green Teams are student-run sustainability clubs. The LOHS Green Team received its Oregon Green School certification last year and LHS is currently in the process of obtaining certification.

Oregon Green Schools Association is a nonprofit organization that aims to be a resource to student-run groups focused on sustainability.

To become Green School-certified a school must have a team or club and work with a Green Schools coordinator to conduct a waste audit and gather educational resources and tools for the school. The team must also fill out an application which details its goals and action plans.

The Green Team at LOHS has about 65 members and several committees, all with their own environmental focus.

Some initiatives include collecting bottles and cans at sporting events to recycle, and composting after lunch to work towards a goal of diverting 90% of lunch waste to compost.

The LOHS team last presented to the board in May 2019, when it presented its Green School Certificate.

Seven students spoke at Tuesday's board meeting, six from LOHS and one from Lakeridge. Other members of the Lakeridge Green Team were present at the meeting as well.

"We are eager to partner with the district as it moves in the direction of sustainability to meet the needs of children growing up in this district," Izzy Rowland, LOHS Green Team member, said.

They pointed out that the district's current strategic plan says little about sustainability.

"As you identify your course of action for the next five years in the strategic plan, we call on you to recognize the growing need for sustainability initiatives during the climate crisis," Rowland said.

Annelise Foster, LOHS Green Team member, noted that Lake Oswego is a lush green bubble from which the climate crisis is not noticeable.

They presented photos of climate disasters all over the world and Alana Penoyer, LOHS Green Team member, said it's crucial that Lake Oswego become sustainable to benefit not only the city but those in communities who don't have access to the same resources.

The group urged the board to add sustainability into its strategic plan in the same way it added diversity, equity and inclusion — in response to community demand.

"At Lakeridge, efforts of sustainability (have) fallen almost entirely on the shoulders of the students," Ella Feathers, Lakeridge Green Team member, said.

"We can do more to make our school even more environmentally friendly, especially with the help of the district," Penoyer said.

They pointed out that though individual schools may make efforts to be more sustainable, they are not as successful as they could be with districtwide support.

The students said progress towards sustainability in the district so far has been inequitable. They asked for districtwide best practices instead of standalone initiatives, vegan and vegetarian options at lunch, metal or mesh trash cans for recycling, as well as metal utensils, clamshells and trays.

"Ideally under the new strategic plan there would be systems and policies in place that address the custodial support we need to direct and carry out these projects, as well as systems that hold all of us accountable to reaching our long-term sustainability goal," LOHS Green Team member Jake Watson said.

Board Member Kirsten Aird thanked them for their recommendations and asked what their number one recommendation would be, money not being a factor.

They responded that solar panel farms and a full-time sustainability coordinator for the district would be at the top of their list.

"Thank you for holding us accountable and don't stop because we're going to fail forward and we might not get this right the first few times, but I think you've got a bunch of committed people who want to,"Aird said.

"The timing on this is really good," board chair Rob Wagner said, because the district beginning to draft its next five-year strategic plan.

"Your voices now and throughout that process are going to be critical," Wagner said.

"While we appreciate and applaud your leadership, you should not be shouldering this climate emergency alone and we want you to know that we hear you, we invite you into the strategic planning process … and we know that we can do better," Superintendent Lora de la Cruz said.

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