Bethpage High School learns how to ‘Make a Difference’

[caption id="attachment_795" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Generation Green Team, Bethpage High School, NY"][/caption] The ‘Make a Difference’ class project that began two years ago on Earth Day at Bethpage High School in New York has evolved into a school-wide environmental movement. In an effort to conserve resources, reduce toxicity and take environmental action, the Generation Green Team at Bethpage, together with the student body, teachers and administrators, has set the high school in a more eco-sensitive direction. In its first initiative, the school introduced non-toxic, refillable markers to its school district, replacing the toxic, disposable markers in many of its classrooms. It was a move that has cut down on approximately 450 pounds of waste from reaching the local landfill this year. [Bethpage NY, December 1, 2010] What began as a class project for the school-wide Earth Day celebrations in 2008 has set in motion a series of green initiatives which have raised eco-awareness and created sustainable practices at Bethpage High School in Bethpage, New York. Jim Miller, a 10th grade math teacher, saw the ‘Make a Difference’ Earth Day theme as a chance to take action with this class and empower his students to actually make a change. The class obtained reports from the school district purchasing department and calculated how many dry-erase markers were being thrown out district-wide each year, and the cost to replace them. The students then wrote letters compelling the superintendent to switch to non-toxic, refillable markers  –  a move which has since saved the district approximately 450 pounds of waste.  “It was shocking to find out how much waste markers create,” explained Miller. “I was going through hundreds [of dry-erase markers] every year. Our district was throwing out close to 10,000 disposable markers at an expense of around $7000 per year.” The superintendent was persuaded by the 25 student letters that he had received, and after meeting with the class, agreed to have the math department pilot AusPen eco-friendly markers, a refillable marker that is made of recycled materials and uses non-toxic ink.  At first when Miller assigned the Make a Difference class project, several students were pessimistic about the possibility that the school would change. The initiative to buy refillable markers instead of disposable ones caught on and by the end of last spring, many teachers in the 5 different schools of the district started using AusPen markers. Miller himself has been using the same set of 12 markers for 3 years. “There is a level of satisfaction in that,” says Miller. “It’s important for the students to see us practicing what we preach. They are sensitive to that, and they learn a lesson by watching me refill my markers. It’s a valuable lesson.” The high school students of Bethpage formed an environmental club and called themselves, Generation Green Team. In their initial meeting, 40 students showed up to talk about their ideas and how to actively green their school. The students encouraged one another to suggest and start their own projects. Taking a cue from the success of the refillable marker project, the team’s initiatives centered around further reducing the school’s waste of paper and plastics. They placed recycling bins in central areas to make recycling a habit. They also began to recycle used exam study guides, batteries from calculators, and sneakers as part of the Nike Reuse a Shoe Program, which repurposes shoes into ground surface for playgrounds. While the teachers at Bethpage High School feel the students are learning valuable lessons, the students themselves are proud of the change they see in their teachers. "It's really awesome to see the teachers participating in something that the students are so passionate about,” explains Matt Lipperhauser, one of the organizers of Generation Green. “Many actively recycle, use the reusable markers, and some teachers even contributed ideas for Generation Green.” And Amy Grant, another organizer of the club observed, “We've really seen a change in the teacher's attitudes.  Many of them started using reusable markers this year based on our proposal to put them in the classrooms last spring.  Most are exited to be a part of something; they're very open to "going green."  When asked about the recent environmental initiatives and the work of Generation Green, Mike Spence, the Principal of Bethpage, says that the students approach him asking if they can have a larger push in certain areas. “My doors are open to listening to these kids,” says Spence. “That’s where great ideas come from.” Concerning the school’s ever-expanding environmental component, Spence explains, “It’s about service and giving back. The goal is to be globally and environmentally aware. The kids get it.” As Bethpage High School continues to keep waste from its local landfill, Spence says the school “started little and is taking its energy from the groundswell”.

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