MHS student spearheads 'Styrofoam-free' school mission
Natalee Litchfield is a self-proclaimed dreamer, but she has a way of turning dreams—like a polystyrene-free lunchroom—into reality, which is why she was selected as the Molalla Pioneer's 2018 Amazing Kid.
"I cared about the environment, but I just wasn't very educated about it." -Natalee Litchfield
Now a sophomore at Molalla High School, Natalee first began concerning herself with living more sustainably as a freshman. One assignment, in particular, seems to be the spark that lit the fire for someone who didn't consider herself an environmentalist.
"I cared about the environment, but I just wasn't very educated about it," she says. "My freshman year, in my leadership class, we had this committee project where we had to carry around a plastic, clear garbage bag with us for a week and collect all of our garbage so everyone could see the amount of garbage we created."
Aside from the visual impact, the project also involved education about humanity's impact on the environment.
"I remember learning about how bad Styrofoam was, and it was kind of this realization, like okay, why do we use it in the cafeteria?" Natalee says. "It doesn't make a lot of sense."
After several meetings with the principal, the district's food services, the county and the school board, Natalee has finally convinced the masses to rid Molalla High School of polystyrene containers beginning in the 2018-2019 academic year.
"I thought it was going to be easier," she says. "But it's definitely worthwhile."
Her persistence caught the attention of others, including Julie Walker, one of the Molalla High School teachers who nominated Natalee for consideration as an Amazing Kid.
"No inconvenience is too grand for her if it means [making] the world a better place," Walker says.
But Natalee's dreams don't stop at cafeteria containers. After the project, she began learning more about the environment.
"Not just Styrofoam, but there's a lot of other things that I think we should do too," Natalee says. "We need to cut down on paper, energy, a lot of different categories."
Natalee is currently working on an application for MHS to become a certified green school, which will require even more changes.
"Next she wants to rid the school of disposable cartons, start composting, create a green team, and I'm sure her list is grand," Walker says.
With the help of grant money, Natalee recently purchased a compost bin for outside to collect food waste on campus. She is also a part of a group that is building two large recycling stations for the lunchroom.
When she's not advocating for reducing the school's environmental footprint, Natalee is often writing. She was recently accepted into and given a partial scholarship for the competitive NYC Summer Academy from the School of the New York Times, where she will attend this summer.
"I just really love writing," Natalee says. "It makes me think a lot. It makes me challenge the world. It definitely ties into the environmental thing, so I could definitely see those two overlapping."
"I'm constantly amazed and inspired by Natalee's curiosity, drive and engagement." -Hayley Zeal
Even beyond her influence as an environmentalist and a writer, Natalee affects the people around her daily through her kindness and compassion.
"I'm constantly amazed and inspired by Natalee's curiosity, drive and engagement," says Hayley Zeal, an MHS English teacher, who also nominated Natalee. "She is involved in leadership, FFA, Creative Writing and takes rigorous academic courses, all the while supporting her peers and this community in whatever way she can…She frequently gives genuine compliments to other students about their school work, ideas, and their strengths."
Zeal added, "I am so proud of her, and this acknowledgment is well earned."
When Natalee is through making MHS a better place, she hopes to move on to New York City, where she would like to attend Columbia University or New York University.
For now, she wants to offer others some inspiration.
"If anyone's reading this, I just want them to know that if they see problems that are happening, not to feel helpless against them," Natalee says, "and to work towards change, whatever that may be for them—whether it's change with them personally, whether it's inspiring other people to change and to educate others. It doesn't matter. Change is change. The world would be an entirely different place if people recognized that and didn't feel helpless against all the issues we face."