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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, February 19, 2009

Hands-on learning
Kids sort garbage to track recycling progress

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Hands-on learning at Guilderland Elementary meant student volunteers stayed after school last week to sift through barrels of garbage.

Principal Alan Lockwood described it as an audit that will be repeated later in the year to see what progress has been made with reducing waste and recycling.

A team of 30 fifth-graders, under the direction of teacher Stacey Kirk, regularly goes from room to room at the school, collecting barrels of paper to be recycled.

“They get pretty indignant when they find an apple core tossed in with the paper,” said Lockwood.

Last Tuesday, seven kids separated all of Monday’s trash into different categories, including recyclable paper, cardboard, food, electronics, construction waste, and compostable paper.

The seven volunteers donned gloves and aprons and sorted assiduously.

What was the point of the project?

“Number one, to be better environmental custodians,” said Lockwood, “to get people thinking about what they should do with their waste.

“Number two, to gather data, so we can see if we’re making improvement.”

Lockwood also said, “We had fun.”

The kids found six pounds of paper that could have been recycled mixed in with the other trash. “That was just one day’s worth,” said Lockwood. “Over the course of a year, it would add up to a pretty significant number.”

They also found four-and-a-half pounds of cardboard; five pounds of packaging like food wrappers and juice boxes; 30 pounds of non-recyclable plastic; and 14 pounds of food waste.

The kids were shocked, Lockwood said, by the amount of food that was thrown away in the cafeteria: Out of 134 pounds, there were 31 pounds of milk, 34 pounds of trash, and 69 pounds of food.

“The kids are excited about getting the word out about the paper we’re throwing out and the food we’re wasting,” said Lockwood.

He concluded, “The level of energy from the students was fantastic.”

Embracing environmental stewardship

Lockwood and his students are working under the direction of Fred Tresselt, the district’s new conservation coordinator.

Both Lockwood and Tresselt studied forestry as undergraduates at Paul Smith’s College in the Adirondacks. Tresselt was a science and math teacher at Farnsworth Middle School for more than two decades before retiring. He would walk to school in the fall and spring and, in the winter, would snowshoe or cross-country ski.

In 2005, Tresselt was named Guilderland’s first energy manager, heading a program that has saved the district significant sums by changing people’s habits with energy use, for example, by getting students and staff to turn off lights when they leave a room.

“A lot of people want to cooperate,” Tresselt told The Enterprise when he first took the energy manager’s job. “They just need to be shown how.” He said about energy conservation. “It’s always been on my mind. You can save a lot of energy if you put your mind to it.”

This past November, the school district created a new post — conservation coordinator — to further the district priority of fostering environmental stewardship.

The post was the brainchild of maintenance Supervisor Clifford Nooney,  and carries an annual stipend of $5,000 — a cost to be offset by recycling.

The conservation coordinator is to reduce paper consumption and increase recycling at all levels, and to explore ways to increase revenues for recycled products.

Lockwood, who once dreamed of becoming a forest ranger, has in his first year as principal at Guilderland Elementary overseen a system that reduces paper use by letting parents with more than one child at the school designate who will bring home backpack mail. That way, multiple fliers aren’t sent to the same home.

“It’s worked well,” said Lockwood. “About 80 families jumped in.”

Also, school newsletters are now available online.

Lockwood concluded, “The students and staff have really embraced the idea of environmental stewardship.”

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