photos by TANIAH TUDOR
Jennifer Batres, 9, Wyatt Jackson, 12, and Kylan Almond, 10, (from left) do some gardening Monday morning in the King Elementary School greenhouse.
Jolie Hobbs (left) and Kim Doss headed the recycling programs that helped King Elementary School win first place in the Arkansas Green Schools Challenge for the second year in a row. Behind them are boards for posting awards and recognition received by the school for its recycling programs and for recognizing students who recycle.
For the second year in a row, a Van Buren school was recognized as the best in environmental conservation and recycling efforts.
King Elementary School took first place in the primary division of the 2013-2014 Arkansas Green Schools Challenge, winning recognition and a $750 cash prize. King also took first place last year.
Jolie Hobbs, special education teacher, headed the Green Schools Challenge program with Kim Doss, who teaches fourth grade.
Both Hobbs and Doss are certified green classroom professionals and are on the Green Committee, a group of teachers who help encourage the school district to implement “green” projects.
Last year the school started an organic vegetable garden in an old flower bed, began school-wide composting and vermiculture, or worm composting, and put into effect recycle drop off days.
This year, the school implemented new and expanded conservation projects, with future projects in the works, Hobbs said.
“That is one thing I have to say about King School - we’re constantly looking forward,” Hobbs said. “Even after we win an award or are recognized, we keep looking forward.”
King hosted a Green Apple Day of Service on Sept. 26, during which about 80 volunteers made up of students, staff, administration and community members walked around neighborhoods in Van Buren and picked up trash, Hobbs said.
Recyclables were collected from the trash, and then students handed out brochures they had made about recycle drop off days, she said. “Student centered and student driven” projects make a larger impact, Hobbs said.
So successful was the Day of Service that the number of students recycling at home and the amount of families participating in recycle drop off days increased - resulting in 8.85 tons of recycled material collected school-wide in six months.
U.S. Green Building Council Arkansas Chapter, which organizes the Green School Challenge with the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators, has asked King to be the area “hub” for next year’s Day of Service, Hobbs said.
Another project this year was the expansion of the organic vegetable garden. Each class “adopted” a vegetable plant, which they then planted, sustainably watered, observed and documented the growth, and harvested.
New rain barrels on the back half of the school - separate from those that collect water for the school’s toilets - collect 600 gallons for the garden and future “green” projects, Hobbs said. A greenhouse and pergola also are new this year.
Projects such as the vegetable garden and rain barrels are things students can replicate at home, Doss said.
“They help to bridge that gap between home and school a little more,” Doss said.
Students also have helped with future project ideas, including a butterfly garden with native plants, tiered outdoor seating for student gatherings and student grown vegetables in the cafeteria.
“We’re always thinking of the next step; it’s student generated ideas and we just go with it,” Doss said.
That may be, but it also takes a lot of dedication and passion from teachers such as Hobbs and Doss to make these ideas a reality.
Hobbs and Doss work to bring in money or assistance for their projects. MAHG Architecture helped build the rain barrels, and Nabholtz Construction built the pergola. A Lowe’s Toolbox for Education Grant helped the school build its greenhouse.
And being at King, a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) school, actually makes it more difficult to reach goals for the Green Schools Challenge, Hobbs said.
King is built and operated in a way that supports the health and well-being of students and staff, at the same time saving energy, resources and money.
Other schools can become energy or water efficient, but those things already are accomplished by King’s building.
“When it comes to doing the Arkansas Green Schools Challenge, we actually have to think outside the box a little more so that we can compete with the schools that can implement those programs,” Hobbs said.
What having a LEED building does do is increase the students’ expectations of the impact recycling and conservation programs should have, Doss said.
“Our students have that mindset that average is no longer good enough,” Hobbs said.
Kids also are encouraged to recycle by being involved in school projects, and receiving recognition for their efforts. Kids caught recycling have their picture posted, and classes that win school-wide competitions win the King Cup Award.
Student-initiated recycling efforts have increased, with kids integrating recycling into classroom projects, school artwork, holiday activities and even fashion, Hobbs said.
Jennifer Batres, a 9-year-old student of Doss, encourages her family to recycle and makes recycled projects at home, such as toys for her little sister, she said.
Being able to make an impact on students’ home lives and the community is important, Hobbs said.
“We were reaching out to kids’ homes, and now I feel their homes are reaching out back to us,” Hobbs said. “You know, a lot of these projects are time consuming, but it’s worth it because of that.”