By Sue Botos
Green has always been a popular color at Magnificat High School. But with the opening of the Marian Commons lunch area, students have become even more aware of recycling and sustainability through such updates as environmentally friendly plastic ware, a drinking fountain that refills reusable water bottles and bins that divide waste into recyclable and compostable items. Students decked out in “Green Police” sashes direct visitors to the appropriate place to stash their trash.
Even before the August opening of the new lunch facility, enthusiastic students were spreading the green gospel. Soon parents and teachers at St. Christopher School wanted to know how younger children could be introduced to the idea of sustainability. So, they went to Mother Earth herself, aka Magnificat environmental science teacher and Sustainability Club facilitator Heidi Paul.
In a recent interview, Paul said that around the end of the last school year, she was contacted by St. Christopher pastor the Rev. John Chlebo and parishioner Janette Nappier about starting a sustainability program at the K-8 school. A former Ursuline College instructor, Nappier had previously shared grant money with Paul for sustainability programs at Magnificat.
Awhile later, two St. Christopher parents, Bev Maloney-Fischback, founder of the Rocky River-based Organic Spa Magazine, and Kristen Mylett also got in touch with Paul for advice on introducing recycling to younger children. When teacher Robin Seedhouse joined in, Paul knew the interest was really there.
“(Seedhouse) ended up being my contact. She met with the moms and coordinated a (kickoff) date,” Paul stated. Because she has not taught young children before, Paul said she consulted her students with younger siblings about how to best get the green message across.
“I don’t do the work. I give them the tools. I teach them how to fish, I don’t just give them the fish,” Paul remarked. She said that her students and members of the Sustainability Club came up with a skit, song and PowerPoint presentation geared to the younger set, which they presented at St. Christopher before the Thanksgiving break.
Senior Angela Zielinski, who helped with the program, recalled that the younger students were very enthusiastic, especially about a sustainability game. “We gave them water bottles and reusable sandwich bags. They really liked that,” she said.
Sustainability is nothing new to Zielinski, who said that in her family “we recycle everything.” But fellow senior Christine Samanich added that while she had always been interested in repurposing, she had her work cut out for her when it came to bringing the message home. “My family was never really into it. I’m the youngest, and I started dictating,” she said, adding that her parents now buy organic foods.
Paul added that this year’s seniors have been the most environmentally conscious class she has seen in her nine years at the school. She stated that the group will be going for its fourth-straight “Trash Wars” title when, later in the year, the classes vie to see who can repurpose the most waste material.
The St. Christopher program, which was begun with lunch waste recycling bins, seems to be growing well, according to Paul. “Parents have been sending me e-mails, and the kids are so excited,” she said. Backers are hoping that by the time the children reach high school, sustainability will be second nature, which according to Samanich is not always the case.
“I had a freshman come up to me at the beginning of the year and say, ‘You recycle? Really?’” she recalled.
Paul laughed when she recalled the origin of her alter ego, Mother Earth. She said that she appeared in a skit as Mother Nature about five years ago, complete with flowing robes and stuffed animals on her shoulders. She was such a hit with students that Mother Earth has become part of the school, making special appearances throughout the year.
“Sustainability is not just a club, it’s a lifestyle,” Paul added.