Piles of garbage, splayed out across a tarp, waited to be sifted through.
Slowly, gloved fingers dug through the trash, pulling out items that could be recycled.
While slightly unappealing, it is one of the many projects Green Club at Brownsville Elementary has taken part of since its founding in January.
“I thought it was gross, but sort of interesting to see how many things can be reused that get thrown away,” said Olivia McFall, club member.
The lesson is just one of many that founder and teacher Rochelle Lancaster shares as the advisor to the environmental club. Lancaster is also an avid farmer and into green living in her own home.
Aside from the one project of going through garbage for recycling, the students have a chance to work in a garden, compost, make “green” items and have discussions about the environment. Lancaster also sends recipes to students to “encourage kids to shop local and eat local.”
My favorite part is being able to share something I’m passionate about with the kids and watch them take off with it,” said Lancaster. “Almost all the kids have started a compost bin at their house. It’s exciting to see how passionate they are about it and how surprised they are when they learn something new.”
The idea of the club is not only to go green, but to teach kids the process of it through different aspects like science, technology, engineering and math. STEM also provided a grant for the club to get going.
“My goal with Green Club is to help the students gain an awareness of not only nature and gardening, but our ability to design a more positive route for the future, through an integrated approach to scientific learning, sustainability, and stewardship,” said Lancaster. “Green Club is rooted in the belief that we can make use of nature and the environment to educate us in science, engineering, math, art, and discovery, as well as inspire the way we live and view the world.”
The club members aren’t the only ones involved. The entire school participates when it comes to contributing. Currently, classrooms are saving markers to be sent off to Crayola. For every 8 pounds of markers, the company can turn it into one gallon of fuel, Lancaster said.
Aside from collecting markers, classrooms also collect leftovers.
Three times a week, Lancaster walks around with students to select classrooms that have compost bins. Two students place leftover scraps of fruits and vegetables into a bin before taking it outside. Some students will even bring in scraps from home, she said.
Once outside, it is mixed inside a tumbling compost bin with brown leaves. After nature has had its time with the compost and turned it into dirt, the club brings it across the street to the flowerbeds of the Brownsville United Methodist Church.
The flowerbed is filled with radishes, sweet onions, cauliflower, broccoli and other vegetables, all grown by the students.
Club member Devon William, 9, loves gardening so much that he is helping his dad with a garden at their home.
“We’ve already got some lettuce and tomatoes growing,” the third grader said.
About two months ago he estimates they started planting the vegetables, and he’s been eager to watch the sprouts come up and plants grow.
Lancaster said William is also good about bringing his compost in from home to add to the heap at the school.
Most of the club members have composts they’ve started at home or they bring in their scraps to compost, Lancaster said.
For some, planting is the best part because of the impact is has on the environment.
“For planting stuff, it makes the air cleaner,” said McFall. “If the air is cleaner, people don’t get as sick.”
New flowerbeds are expected to go into Brownsville Elementary over the summer so the students will have their own flowerbeds to use instead of borrowed ones. There will also be container gardening around the school that will be home to herbs and flowers.
In addition to gardening, once a week students gather to meet after school for an hour for a mini lesson. All 13 members talk about a topic of environmental importance, and then there’s an activity tied into the lesson.
Some activities have included creating homemade fruit snacks and making seed balls to plant out in the community. The students also have a grow light and are able to grow starts and track the progress over time.
At the end of the hour, students set a “green challenge” to follow throughout the week. Sometimes it is as simple as turning off a light switch when leaving a room.
In the future, Lancaster hopes that once the new gardens on the school grounds get going that the cafeteria will be supplied with enough fruits and veggies to serve for lunch time.
“We would like to grow enough to supply the cafeteria with things,” she said.
Once the garden becomes bountiful enough, Lancaster and her students also plan to share with the community by donating to the food bank.
For Lancaster, the steps the club is taking--from recycling to composting--every one counts for a greener future at Brownsville Elementary.
“If they want to continue living in a world that’s green and healthy, they need to take small steps,” she said.