Teaching Our Schools To Change Their Ways | Seventh Generation
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Teaching Our Schools To Change Their Ways

Author: the Inkslinger

It's back to school time, and new classrooms and new lessons await. Despite all that will be different, there's much that hasn't changed in schools since I was a kid, decades ago. Some of that is as it should be -- rituals like book reports and pep rallies are ingrained in the American experience and part of what binds us together as a people -- but there are other things that need an upgrade. Here are a few changes I'd make if I were principal for a day:

  1. School lunches that are good for you and taste good. Given what we know today about food and nutrition, it's alarming to see so many school cafeterias stuck in the 1950s. I know that the unpalatable prevalence of over-processed ingredients has to do with tight budgets and archaic government food programs, but I think we can do better. Schools should be encouraged to start their own gardens and partner with local growers and providers to establish new supplies of fresher and more wholesome foods. Wherever possible, kids should get involved in the growing of their food so they can learn where it comes from and gain new perspectives on our current food system. Stir in a little kitchen creativity emphasizing whole foods, natural ingredients, in-season cooking, and other strategies, and we'd have a recipe for healthier student bodies and smarter future generations.
  2. Buses that sit idly by. Most school buses have diesel engines and most of those engines idle while drivers wait for kids. The result is wasted energy, unnecessary wear-and-tear, and, most importantly, toxic emissions. There's no reason for buses to idle, which makes the solution here as simple as turning the ignition key. If drivers kill their engines whenever they're not moving, they'll leave everyone breathing easier.
  3. Daily clean ups that don't make more of a mess. Anyone who's stayed after school knows what happens when the final bell rings: the maintenance staff scrubs, washes, mops, and otherwise wipes the whole place down. How do they get that dirty job done? In all too many cases, with industrial petrochemical cleaners that can contaminate surfaces and fill school air with fumes. It's quite ironic: we work like crazy to create the healthiest possible home and then send our children off to school where they're exposed to toxins for seven hours a day. The answer is to convince our schools to safeguard the health of students and staff alike by using only safe cleaning and other products.

There are other things I'd change about school (like the length of summer vacation), but this is where I'd begin. Schools need to create the healthiest possible environment for our kids, and we parents need to help them do it. In many cases, administrators and staff aren't even aware of these issues. If that's the case in your community, a little education and involvement is likely all you need to teach the staff a few lessons about sustainability and green cleaning. Here's to making the 2010-2011 school year the best yet for all our kids.

photo: woodley wonderworks


obelwood picture
If you only knew how schools actually worked then you may be able to formulate better suggestions. I don't disagree with any of your suggestions however very few decisions are actually made at the school district level. The bus idling issue would be better addressed through alternative fuels such as bio-diesel or hybrid engines. Unless everyone resides in San Diego, the hot/humid South and frigid North require buses to idle for extended periods of time. Regarding the school lunch proposal, virtually all schools now serve breakfast in addition to lunch and more are adding an after school meal option due to growing poverty levels. The ideal scenario would be a federally mandated, operated and funded program that guarantees the nutritional value of the food served and emphasizes locally and sustainably grown products. It would cost more upfront but the returns on the investment would be tremendous with lower obesity rates and improved educational results to name a few. The daily clean up is one area where a savings could easily be achieved by using three inexpensive cleaning items. You would be surprised by the number of items you can clean more effectively by merely using baking soda, vinegar and hot water/steam.
CoachKaterina picture
I don't know where you live but we live in very hot Florida. The buses idle here because they need to have the A/C on. What do you expect the bus drivers to do? Get all stinky, hot and sweaty and suffer from heat stroke waiting for the kids and then the kids get on a hot and humid bus. You would have all kinds of problems. The buses idle for a reason here. But of course, I really don't pay much attention to what is going on at public school because we homeschool and so do all our friends.
divinevi picture
In our BC community, Burnaby, we have switched to non-toxic cleaning in elementary schools. It's not as painful as it sounds. Here is a great article, with helpful information.
christine@cornucopiafoods.net picture
This subject is very timely for me, having a kindergartner who just started school. I spoke with the principal and teachers about the school menu and garden idea. I was told that the school has tried vegetable gardens to supplement the lunch menu. Since school is out for the summer they did not have anyone to tend the gardens and reap the most bountiful time of harvest, much of the food went to waste. Since the big decisions need to come from a government level it is very important for parents to become as involved as they can at a grass root level by volunteering at school to help with these issues. I've found that bringing suggestions to the administrators is always welcome but what they really need are parents to volunteer to bring some of these great ideas to fruition- perhaps offering to tend gardens in summer and organize the harvest and preserve or freeze food that won't be needed until school starts up again.
iknowcia picture
hey breezy red, actually you're right about a principal not being able to make these decisions however one could instigate the steps needed to make them happen. As far as the busses go I understand the idea "There's no reason for buses to idle" but I have to say that in Florida where 90 is a way of life not a heat wave. To be a bus driver that must remain in the vehicle it would be like when people leave their dogs in the car with the windows cracked. I can only imagine that in states like Wisconsin where the opposite weather exists they also need that engine going to keep themselves, as well as, the soon to load kids from getting frost bite. Ok, that said, I know it would be possible and affordable for students to grow a garden at school and for the cafeteria to use the produce. When I worked in the public school system the manager of our cafeteria recieved an award for having a cafeteria that was always in the black. She went out of her way to offer more fresh foods and was particular about the extras she had available. Clearly she had some say in the purchasing and production of food. As far as the cleaning supplies go... if a company like seventh generation would be willing to offer natural cleaning supplies for the price that the schools can get the chem based ones I'm sure schools would switch.
breezyred picture
These are not changes that a principal can mandate; these are all district leadership decisions. Policies that have the greatest affect on our students' health and sfety should rarely just be considered on the school level anyway. This is a much larger issue. The federal government places prices and often even the food itself in schools. Even the cafeteria staff has no choice what comes their way.