By Liz Nolan, Contributing Writer
Northborough – The Marion E. Zeh Elementary School celebrated its fifth annual Environmental Awareness Week April 25-29. Activities and presentations highlighted the impact people have on the environment and how small changes make a difference.
The Environmental Team is designed for third- through fifth-graders and has 65 students voluntarily participating this year. It meets twice a month and was formed to promote good citizenry as part of the school’s improvement plan.
The team is spearheaded by parent volunteers Selvi Oyola, Megan Varnes, Jeanette Morgan, Lisa Gaskamp and Judy Moineau under the leadership of Principal Susan Whitten.
“The goal is to raise awareness of the importance of taking care of the environment and to teach about conversation, recycling, endangered species, habitats, waste management, air pollution and other environmentally pertaining topics to foster a community behavior for a sustainable future,” said Oyola.
The week’s activities were chosen by students and included an environmental scavenger hunt, reading environment-related books to younger grades, and a walk/bike to school day. During an assembly, George Brenckle shared his experience in nature while he and his son hiked the Appalachian Trail last year.
There were many learning opportunities throughout the week.
“The most important information we would like our students to walk away with is that Earth is a living organism,” said Oyola. “We are a part of it and it is our responsibility to ensure its health. They learn to make better choices as they grow up to ensure the continued abundance and health of our planet.”
Fifth-grader Justin Eames said he has already become more aware of the litter on the roadsides and the importance of keeping garbage where it belongs. And fifth-grader Kate Thibault said she is thinking of doing something to clean up the environment on her birthday.
Many of the team’s efforts go beyond one week. A student-run composting program during lunch periods sorts and collects fruits and vegetables from lunch trays and are composted.
“It gives our students the opportunity to learn about soil chemistry, reducing waste, and how our waste can sometimes turn into a valuable product, in this case, a nutrient-rich solid to use in our school garden beds,” said Oyola.
Students are sharing the information with their families. Fifth-grader Chloe Ricard said she helps her grandfather with composting for his garden.
Zeh School is the only Northborough Public School with a composting program in operation. The three compost bins were granted by Green Schools of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection or purchased using funds raised by the school’s juice pouch recycling program and electronic recycling days.
Students are encouraged to bring in a No Waste Lunch Box to include reusable containers, utensils and water bottles; cloth napkins; and packing only what will be eaten and avoiding single service foods.
Parent volunteer Morgan said, “They learn that being green is saving green.”
An earlier presentation by Southwick’s Zoo EARTH Program focused on the importance to reduce the use of plastic bags and bottles. Students learned that one plastic bottle takes 450 years to decompose.
Morgan said a student survey determined that the number of water bottles they used in one week resulted in enough water bottles, placed end to end, to circle the school twice.
Fifth-grader Maddie Parker knows the importance of using reusable water bottles and has been for a few years she said.
A writing instrument recycling program through Terracycle and a pollinator garden to attract bees and butterflies were new ideas this year. With the help of a grant awarded by the Northboro Junior Woman’s Club, parent volunteer and horticulturist Varnes will help the garden move forward.
“The week has helped kids to become passionate about the environment,” said Whitten.