The Illinois Green Schools Project, a program that invites students, teachers and staff to implement hands-on sustainability projects, has awarded Beye Elementary School first place among elementary schools in its annual contest.
Led by the Illinois Green Alliance, participating schools identify a problem or area of concern, investigate how the issue impacts their school community and implement a solution over the course of the year. Beye’s project focused on lunchroom waste reduction as a means of climate action.
Over the course of the year, students used a number of strategies to reduce food waste during lunchtime, including composting food scraps and the recovery of surplus food, which resulted in the redistribution of about 20 pounds of food items daily to community fridges. They also worked to reuse lunch containers and utensils when possible.
“The students’ waste reduction efforts in the lunchroom could not have been done without the help of the principals, administrative staff, custodial staff, lunchroom staff and team of Green Team parent volunteers,” Beye parent and Green Team co-chair Lauren MacGregor said. “It was a true team effort!”
This 2021-22 contest theme, “energy and justice,” challenged participating schools to incorporate principles of environmental justice into year-long, no- to low-cost projects. Students learned that reducing food waste reduces greenhouse gas, conserves energy and helps feed community members.
MacGregor said the Student Leadership Team helped the Green Team brainstorm project ideas, placing them at the center of project planning and implementation.
“Students feel like they are being a part of the solution, which is empowering and provides opportunity for the development of leadership skills and instills hope,” MacGregor said.
Beye’s sustainability work for the project extended beyond the lunchroom. They added native and pollinator plants to the school’s annual PTO-sponsored plant sale and to the school garden. Students also engaged the wider school community by forming a neighborhood clean-up crew and organizing biweekly block clean-ups.
“Join C-C-C, Cuyler Clean-up Crew,” a recruitment flyer said. “We are the warriors. We fight to make our earth clean and healthy.”
Beye was honored and celebrated for their sustainability work during an all-school assembly on May 16. The assembly featured environmental educator Joey FineRhyme, whose slogan “how low can you go” has been adopted by students as a school-wide pledge to continue their work as “warriors” for a greener future.