Editor’s note: This is one in a continuing series of guest opinions about fostering environmental stewardship. The series is coordinated by ACES, the Alliance of Climate and Environmental Stewards.
A commitment to environmental stewardship, on a local and global level, is at the core of the Montessori Method represented by the River Valley Charter School, a local public Montessori school serving students in grades K-8. Since the school’s doors opened 20 years ago, the students, teachers, and the greater school community have worked to foster change and awareness of the environment by educating the school community and taking action to leave the world better than they found it.
River Valley teachers, students, and families work hard to live the axiom “Think Globally, Work Locally, and Act Personally!” Three groups exemplify this commitment: the middle school’s Environmental Coalition, a group of elementary students who are specifically focused on the climate crisis; River Valley’s staff and administration; and the Board of Trustees, who work to ensure the school operates with an eye toward environmental and sustainability efforts.
River Valley middle school students, with the support of two teachers, began an Environmental Coalition at the beginning of this school year. Their goal was to raise awareness and educate the school community about environmental issues while also affecting change throughout the school and beyond. During its first few months, the coalition participated in the local rally of the global climate strike. Next, they identified the goal of a “zero waste lunch.” Members of the coalition educated younger students on how to pack their lunches in reusable packaging, teaching them about sustainability. The long-term goal is to eliminate waste from school lunches completely. Looking forward, the coalition plans to work collaboratively with the Newburyport Tree Commission to plant trees around the city this spring. The Environmental Coalition provides an inspiring model of the impact student-led actions can make.
River Valley’s upper elementary students also began an environmental group to coordinate recycling and a composting program that both staff and grade K-8 students participate in. Students use the nutrient-rich compost to support school-based gardening. Another initiative among the grade 4-6 students is an ongoing, school wide cleanup of school grounds during recess. Students walk around the building, and sometimes along Perry Way, picking up trash to help beautify their surroundings. Such actions are crucial for students to build life-long habits which can have a far-reaching environmental impact.
River Valley Charter School staff, administration, and trustees model environmental stewardship as well. Faculty’s professional development activities includes an Environmental Project Group. About once a month, teachers get together to brainstorm ways the school can further its commitment to environmental stewardship. One example of this work was the elimination of plastic-based scotch tape from the engineering program, switching to cellulose-based Sellotape instead. The school has moved away from single-use food ware including paper plates, plastic-ware and paper napkins. Every staff member was welcomed back at the beginning of the year with a cloth napkin to use instead of paper. (The school has a washing machine onsite to clean them).
Another professional development activity included taking staff on an outing aboard the local public bus system so teachers would learn about, and consider, public bus transport for field trips. Administration has worked to eliminate as much paper-based communication as possible, using electronic and cloud-based communication and registration when possible. Lastly, the RVCS Board of Trustees invested in the environmental future, approving the installation of 359 solar panels on the roof of the school in 2018. These provide 130,000 kilowatts of energy each year!
These actions, and many more, demonstrate that the students, staff, and school community at River Valley Charter School are fully engaged in making an impact on the world, globally, locally, and personally. River Valley’s efforts and actions codify school’s commitment to both leading and creating leaders who will ensure environmental stewardship is at the forefront of everything we do.
Dan Bouchard is assistant director of River Valley Charter School in Newburyport.