Free Stuff!

If you're here from Google, sorry . . . this post is for teachers only!

I'm one of the faculty advisors for the Ecology Club, and we just celebrated our first Green Week in conjunction with Earth Day on April 22.  It was exhausting, and even though I only bore a far less of the burden of effort, I was very ready for it to be over!  If we were ever to do it again, here are some of the highlights I would try to keep:

  • A guest speaker from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. We had one booked, but she bailed at the last minute, so we scrambled to put together a raucous class competition we termed the EcoLympics.  I had never seen 500 high school girls so aflame with the rabid desire to save the planet -- or maybe just to release some pent-up energy and miss class?  No, I'm sure it was to save the planet.  I'm not sure how successful the game was; the ecological trivia questions we had labored so hard to write were drowned out by choruses of "Recycle!" by opposing teams who wanted to steal the question.  We wanted a local speaker because we wanted the students to see

  • A petition to Baltimore County to up its recycling program, which sucks.  Sorry, but it's true.  Currently, we can only recycle yard waste, narrow-necked bottles and cans, and mixed paper -- all biweekly and in separate containers.  The neighboring counties of Anne Arundel and Howard recently adopted programs that make it possible to recycle food-contaminated paper (pizza boxes), used plastic furniture and toys, plastic and aluminum packaging, and a whole host of other items.  Besides all this, because we are a private school, the county will not pick up our recycling.  We have instituted a grassroots program (basically, boxes and bins in classrooms that are emptied and taken home by faculty and students who just can't stand to see it thrown away,) but we want more!

  • A visual aid that couldn't be ignored. For us, it was a huge pile of trash bags stuffed with paper that represented all the trash we discard in one day.  Seventeen huge bags.  Ugh!  We made a sort of obstacle course out of them, so that the students entering the building in the morning couldn't avoid stepping over and around them to get to class.

  • A Green Scavenger Hunt. We made up questions about the environment (Which oil companies are the most environmentally responsible?  How much money can you save on your heating bill by installing solar panels?  What are some good materials to compost?) and gave the answers to faculty members who were willing and, often, already involved in the effort.

  • Lots and lots of prizes. Unfortunately, most high schoolers need motivation in the form of consumable goods.  We held contests (most students in a homeroom using reusable drink containers; best suggestion for reducing the school's carbon footprint) and gave out prizes.  Not dumb prizes, either: gift certificates to local salons, shops, restaurants and boutiques.  Denominations ranged from $5 to $50.  We got them all for free.  It was frighteningly easy: basically, we made a list of local businesses we thought students would enjoy patronizing, and we had students call down the list after school one day.  Then we sent out donation forms and drove around town picking up stuff.  Seriously, it was that simple, even in a recession economy, to get tons of cool prizes for our contests.

Was it tempting to keep some of the freebies for ourselves?  YES.  But we wanted the students to spend the certificates, and hopefully to see the value in supporting the local economy by eating at Catonsville Gourmet instead of Red Lobster.  Besides, there's that whole . . . honesty . . . thing.