Photo: From left, Emma and Chloe Ellis along with Brady Chan and Brent Hudson recycling milk cartons at the Wellington Elementary School.
After they finish their lunches, the last thing students at the Roger Wellington Elementary School on Orchard Street do is head for the refuse barrels.
But before they throw away anythings, students will be pouring out the milk and water from the containers into a pail then tossing the boxes along with papers and plastic boxes into a blue recycling bin.
“The more you do, the more it helps the earth,” said fourth grader Rachel Hudson.
Recycling is not just a lunchroom activity at the Wellington, but an activity that goes on throughout the day.
“It’s a big initiative at the school. Our school is very earth-minded … and we have been recycling almost since I started here,” said Wellington Principal Amy Spangler, noting the building was constructed to promote natural light and geothermal heating in an environmental-friendly way.
There are recycling bins in every classroom where children have a responsibility bringing to major receptacles and helping each other to be as diligent as possible in reprocessing material, participating in a six-week “Tray-less Thursday” program in the cafeteria that highlighted best menus to serve to reduce food waste and attending all-school assemblies that incorporated art from recycled material, presentations and taking part in national contest focused on sustainability.
“The Wellington is the model for the other schools. The staff, the parents, and the children, have been wonderful here,” said Mary Beth Calnan, the part-recycling coordinator with the town’s Department of Public Works.
“They really embrace even the little changes,” said Calnan. Much of the student’s enthusiasm comes from the most basic of reasons.
“Telling elementary students that what they are doing is good for the earth is a simple, strong message,” said Calnan.
“Mary Beth has been a great partner as kids are really conscious of recycling,” said Spangler.
The Wellington’s recycling program is part of a district-wide approach to increasing recycling in the six schools in the system that includes a wide variety of programs and events.
Calnan thought the district-wide effort established in the past two years was worthy of attention.
“So I went ahead and nominated the district for a state-wide contest held by MassRecycle,” she said of the non-profit organization which highlighted local, business and school recycling for 20 years.
In its first year of being nominated, the Belmont School District is one of the three finalists in the K-12 category.
And now until Friday, March 13, Belmont residents and students can vote on-line for the district to be honored with the first prize.
“I am extremely proud of this district’s effort of following the four R’s: refuse, reduce, reuse and recycle to become more sustainable in the last two years,” said Calnan.
The initiative has produced long-term changes in the schools and town, she said.
“The most far-reaching aspect of the recycling campaign has been changing the culture in the schools by way of the PTA/PTO’s,” Calnan said. “The thing I like the best is that the PTAs and PTOs have initiated their own ‘Green Teams’ made up of residents who are concerned about the environment and related issues such as local food and sustainability.”
Last year, the parent’s groups got together to create the Green Schools Alliance, which meets bimonthly with school district leaders to shape a comprehensive approach to environmental issues facing the schools and the wider world.
“We share ideas and success stories as well as programs that weren’t so successful. It’s a place to share,” said Calnan.
Last month, the Alliance and the elementary school Green Teams learned the results of the nationwide Green Cup Energy Challenge in which the Wellington and the Winn Brook schools finished in the top-ten at schools in the Northeast.
“This growth was a combined effort of students, parents and staff from the school and town departments working collaboratively to carry out these green initiatives,” Calnan said.