Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Is Your School Environmentally Friendly?

Schools and the Environment - Graphic by Offiikart
As July melts into August, many parents begin back-to-school shopping. The lists are overflowing with the usual items like paper, pencils, crayons, glue sticks, and the sort; however, many school lists now add more and more additional products, such as cleaning supplies, cheap toys, and candy.

Many schools teach students about recycling, protecting the environment, and being prudent with resources. But are those same schools demonstrating environmentally friendly living? I remember a time when food was served on a plate that was washed and used again the next school day. I recall a time when messes were cleaned with a spray solution and cloth that was washed, a time when a smile and sincere kind words or a special activity, rather than toys or candy, were offered to those who gave 100% effort.

Yes, I know that times are different. Some children have food allergies and the risk might be too great for those children to eat on plates that certain foods have touched. Many of those kids already pack food from home. Disposable plates should be available for children with special needs, but does everyone in the school need to eat on a disposable plate? Do kids really see the value in composting when they are instructed to throw their scraps in the garbage at school? I realize purchasing plates and dishwashers would be a big investment, but that investment might contribute to saving precious resources that our kids deserve to enjoy when they grow up. Can we afford to wait for the landfills to reach capacity before we decide to change habits?

Convenience carries a hefty price tag. It is much easier to serve foods that are pre-packaged rather than serving freshly cooked, healthy foods. It is quicker to clean a mess with a pre-moistened product. But is that convenience truly necessary? Do we want children growing up thinking that they should eat pre-packaged foods – many of those convenience foods are less healthy and may contribute to numerous health issues in the future. Do all spills require costly clean-up, or could a rag and spray bottle be just as effective while costing less?

What about rewards? Some reward systems are fraught with issues. Consider, for instance, the ones in which children simply earn opportunities at a raffle. What if an exemplary student goes through all of his or her years at the school without ever winning that raffle? If a child receives junk food for doing a good job and is forced to walk laps for a mistake, will she continue to reward herself with junk food and punish herself with exercise as an adult? How special is that toy that breaks or gets lost before it gets home? Will the growing mound of toys increase stress at home? Will that child who becomes a young adult expect to be rewarded with a piece of candy if he arrives at work on time?

One of our most important jobs as adults is to prepare children for life in the future. Sure, we can suggest that kids reduce, reuse, and recycle; however, our actions typically speak louder than words. Are we teaching our future leaders that being environmentally friendly is a good idea on paper but not applicable to the real world or are we demonstrating true commitment to our planet?

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