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Sustainable Schools Blog

The Sustainable Schools program helps students of all ages protect our ecosystem and live sustainably. We provide hands-on education on waste prevention, water conservation, energy efficiency and climate change for all grade levels. Read more.

  • Infographic: 2018-2019 School year by the numbers The Sustainable Schools team had a banner of a year offering its waste reduction, energy and water conservation, and stormwater education curriculums to thousands of students. The team of high ...
    Posted Jun 12, 2019, 12:09 PM by Simon Bakke
  • Youth Activists Use Artistic Flair to Raise Awareness about Threats to Endangered Orcas  By Sasha Savoian, Education SpecialistYouth voices matter.That’s what these 12 high school students set off to learn as they channeled their passions with paint to raise awareness ...
    Posted Jun 19, 2019, 9:42 AM by Simon Bakke
  • VIDEO: How these 3rd graders are being waste- and energy-conscious You won't want to miss the creative tip about carpooling around the 3-minute mark.After participating in energy and waste workshops through the Green Classrooms program, Kendall Elementary ...
    Posted May 29, 2019, 2:19 PM by Simon Bakke
  • Press Release: Bellingham third graders clean up Squalicum Beach May 2 to protect birds and animals from eating trash FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, April 26th, 2019 Media Contact: Serena Auriemma, Green Classrooms Coordinator, serenaa@re-sources.org, (360) 733-8307 Bellingham third graders clean up Squalicum Beach May 2 to ...
    Posted Apr 26, 2019, 12:50 PM by Simon Bakke
  • VIDEO: 1st grade water conservation tips from Green Classrooms Cute and conscientious! Watch these first grade classrooms at Columbia Elementary School in Bellingham act out some easy tips to save water at home.
    Posted Mar 6, 2019, 9:01 AM by Simon Bakke
Showing posts 1 - 5 of 27. View more »

Infographic: 2018-2019 School year by the numbers

posted Jun 12, 2019, 10:09 AM by Simon Bakke   [ updated Jun 12, 2019, 12:09 PM ]

The Sustainable Schools team had a banner of a year offering its waste reduction, energy and water conservation, and stormwater education curriculums to thousands of students. The team of high school students in Youth for the Environment and People (YEP!), after learning leadership skills and how to elevate youth voices, even painted a mural to raise awareness for the Salish Sea's endangered orcas.

Check out what the thousands of K-12 students from dozens of schools learned and accomplished this year.

Youth Activists Use Artistic Flair to Raise Awareness about Threats to Endangered Orcas

posted Jun 11, 2019, 1:47 PM by Simon Bakke   [ updated Jun 19, 2019, 9:42 AM ]

 By Sasha Savoian, Education Specialist

Youth voices matter.

That’s what these 12 high school students set off to learn as they channeled their passions with paint to raise awareness about the perils facing the Southern Resident Orcas of the Salish Sea. 

The mural, designed and created by participants in RE Sources’ Youth for the Environment and People (YEP!) program, now brightens the side of the RE Store and serves as a reminder to the community about the threats affecting the health of endangered orcas — toxic pollutants in the water, noise pollution from vessel traffic, and a dwindling supply of Chinook salmon to eat. Watch the mural go from chalk outlines to completion here!

The dedicated students are members of the RE Sources program YEP!, a student-led advocacy group of high school students who learned leadership and community organizing skills, participated in service learning, and how to elevate their own voices while they worked towards a culminating action project of their choice. They met weekly for several months in Stephenie Burgess’ classroom at Options High School to learn advocacy skills and to collaborate with students from other Bellingham public high schools in designing the mural.

“Working with other people who have the same passion and drive for change has been an amazing experience. I’m really proud of what we’ve created,” said YEP! participant Shannon Butler.

While the Washington State legislature worked to pass a series of laws in 2019 to protect endangered orcas and salmon, the students learned about the orcas’ plight from Katie Jones of The Center for Whale Research, who visited from San Juan Island to lead a workshop. This issue struck a chord with the team of students, and they decided to focus their action project on it.

YEP! students also participated in other workshops, which provided a learning space for students as they collaborated on the action project to engage the community in protecting the remaining 76 Southern Resident Orcas.

In addition, other community members provided opportunities for student learning: Eddy Ury, RE Sources Clean Energy program manager, led a workshop on how to lead an effective campaign; Katie Jones, The Center for Whale Research Education and Outreach Manager, led a workshop on the Southern Resident Orcas; Lindsey MacDonald, Sustainable Communities Partnership Program Coordinator at WWU, led a workshop on leadership skills; Gretchen Leggitt, local artist and former art teacher, led a workshop on how to paint a mural. 

I’ve witnessed the drive and passion these students put forward in the design and execution of the mural and I’m proud of all they have accomplished. Youth don’t want to sit idly by while the environmental issues they hear about every day continue to cause harm. This group of young people knows how to make a lasting impression on us here at RE Sources, and on the whole community.

Come check out these empowered students’ mural facing Monroe St. on the side of The RE Store. Learn more about YEP! here.

VIDEO: How these 3rd graders are being waste- and energy-conscious

posted May 29, 2019, 2:19 PM by Simon Bakke   [ updated May 29, 2019, 2:19 PM ]

You won't want to miss the creative tip about carpooling around the 3-minute mark.

After participating in energy and waste workshops through the Green Classrooms programKendall Elementary School 3rd grade students came up with their own energy-saving and waste-reducing tips, and have acted them out for you!

Press Release: Bellingham third graders clean up Squalicum Beach May 2 to protect birds and animals from eating trash

posted Apr 26, 2019, 12:50 PM by Simon Bakke


Media Contact: Serena Auriemma, Green Classrooms Coordinator, serenaa@re-sources.org, (360) 733-8307

Bellingham third graders clean up Squalicum Beach May 2 to protect birds and animals from eating trash

Columbia Elementary class partners with RE Sources and Whatcom Audubon for a cleanup to celebrate World Migratory Bird Day.

Columbia Elementary third graders have planned a beach cleanup at Squalicum Beach in Bellingham from 9:00-11:00am on Thursday, May 2, with support from RE Sources’ Sustainable Schools education coordinators and volunteers from North Cascades Audubon Society, in honor of World Migratory Bird Day.

As an outcome of RE Sources’ Green Classrooms curriculum, Susie Davis’ 8 to 9-year-old students will put their learning to action and do something about the growing problem of trash being ingested by marine animals, including birds.

“The problem of plastic waste — nearly 8 million tons in oceans each year — is a problem our children will inherit,” said Green Classrooms Coordinator Serena Auriemma. “Getting students out of the classrooms and into their environment is key to developing an empowered response to issues like these.”

This “action project” is a final component of the Green Classrooms curriculum that gives students the opportunity to bring their learning out of the classroom, and make their ideas applicable to the larger community — accomplishing the twofold goal of introducing service-learning and applied learning.

“While the subject of plastic pollution is something we discuss regularly at home, having this issue addressed at school — and particularly through a hands-on activity like a beach cleanup — has been very impactful for my son,” said Darrah Blanton, a Columbia Elementary parent. “I love that he and his classmates are learning that they can take personal action to lessen these effects and increase the chances of survival for animals.”

Davis’ students are focused on an Orinthology unit, researching migratory birds and the challenges they face. Students will also participate in Bellingham’s Procession of the Species Parade on May 4, dressed in bird costumes.

World Migratory Bird Day on May 11 highlights trash and plastic issues and provides a chance for communities to make a difference by conducting local projects aimed at environmental habitats. Studies show that small trash management efforts can make a lasting impact, especially with education supplementing the issues, like the Sustainable Schools program offers.

For more information, visit http://www.worldmigratorybirdday.org or http://www.re-sources.org/programs/sustainableschools/greenclassrooms

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RE Sources for Sustainable Communities is a local nonprofit organization in Bellingham, WA dedicated to protecting the health of northwest Washington’s people and ecosystems through the application of science, education, advocacy, and action. For more information, visit re-sources.org.

VIDEO: 1st grade water conservation tips from Green Classrooms

posted Mar 6, 2019, 9:00 AM by Simon Bakke   [ updated Mar 6, 2019, 9:01 AM ]

Cute and conscientious! Watch these first grade classrooms at Columbia Elementary School in Bellingham act out some easy tips to save water at home.

Ideas for your students to serve in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, January 21st

posted Jan 4, 2019, 4:00 PM by Hannah Coughlin   [ updated Jan 8, 2019, 4:17 PM ]

by Natalie Lord, Sustainable Schools Education Specialist

“Everybody can be great...because anybody can serve”
- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

School is out on Monday, January 21st and it’s important to remember why. Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a great opportunity for students to revisit the legacy of Dr. King’s work on civil rights, social justice and equality for all. Although many get the day off, it is actually designated as a National Day of Service with the hope that individuals may use the time to honor the life of Dr. King by serving others, just like he did. The day is meant to empower people to take action in their community to solve social problems. Fortunately, you don’t have to travel far in order to make a difference, the opportunity for service can be right in your own neighborhood. 

A local connection can be made by focusing on healthy communities, which begin with healthy people and a healthy environment. The Sustainable Schools team has many resources for teachers to facilitate student service in their communities through environmental stewardship. Check out the lesson plan below that gives students an opportunity to use their voices in the name of service.

Lynden High School stream restoration stewardship project 

Sample Lesson Plan
  1. Begin the lesson by prompting the students with the following:
    • What are some qualities of a healthy community? 
    • Invite students to share about any community service work they have completed in the past. 

  2. Introduce Martin Luther King Jr. with his quote “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?” Allow time for student reflection and a class discussion. 

  3. Review Dr. King’s legacy of civil rights, social justice and equality. 
    • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4xXZhXTFWnE&t=29s
    • I Have a Dream by Martin Luther King Jr. illustrated Kadir Nelson
    • Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport
    • My Daddy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Martin Luther, III King
    • National Geographic Readers: Martin Luther King, Jr. by Kitson Jazynka

  4. With a focus on human rights, Dr. King made a difference at the community level. A healthy community begins with healthy people and a healthy environment. 
    • 9-12 grades: Ask students to define the term environmental justice. Share this definition: “Environmental justice is the principle that all people have the right to clean air, water, and soil, as well as a right to live in safe and healthy communities.” Source: http://www.scholastic.com/mlkday/pdfs/CNCS_9-12_Environment_Lesson.pdf
    • 5-8 grades: How might caring for the environment positively influence human and community health? 
    • 1-5 grades: what are some ways students can improve the health of their own communities? 

  5. Stewardship Activity: Handwritten notes have become a past time in this age of technology. In honor of Dr. King, students will take action using one of his best forms of communication: writing. Students may choose to write about a previous community service project, an idea for a future one, or an opinion piece on a local issue happening in their community. *The 2019 Legislative session begins on January 14th.  

Squalicum High School stormwater stewardship project 

Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2019 Community Events

Meridian High School students work on a social media campaign 

Students research how our watershed is connected to orca survival

posted Nov 29, 2018, 9:19 AM by Hannah Coughlin   [ updated Jan 3, 2019, 5:42 PM by Simon Bakke ]

by Natalie Lord, Young Water Stewards Education Specialist

Tracing orca population decline down the food chain

Looking through the lens of a pressing issue in our region, students in the Young Water Stewards program traced the problem down the food chain, where they reached the orcas’ main food source: Chinook salmon. Unfortunately, Puget Sound Chinook (also known as king salmon) are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, which means they are well on their way to join the southern resident orcas as an endangered species. 

Chinook spend the beginning and end of their lives in our watershed, so students were able to identify the connection between land-based pollution and effects on all levels of the Chinook’s food chain. Watershed science — studying the interconnected rivers, storm drains, and every waterway in between that eventually make their way to sea — is the basis of the Young Water Stewards program, and the key to the puzzle of the orcas’ predicament. 

Saving the southern residents is a one of our region’s greatest challenges right now.  To this end, the program empowers students to take action in their local watershed through an introduction to water quality sampling, non-point source pollution, and “best management practices,” all culminating with a stewardship project. By connecting current pollution facing the Salish Sea, the program engages students on smaller-scale water quality issues in their communities to ultimately make a difference at the regional level. 

What do whales, salmon, and shellfish have in common? 

Answer: pollution. Pollution — from human land use practices — enters the marine ecosystem of whales, salmon, and shellfish and builds up in their bodies over time. 

More than 200 students from Blaine and Meridian High Schools examined the same water quality problem in two different school districts: shellfish bed closures where their watersheds meet the ocean. 

With guidance from Blaine teacher Jennifer Wright, we took the Young Water Stewards program to the next level — enriching the curriculum to support national science standards (NGSS) with a 3-dimensional approach for the freshman biology students. In class, students operated  watershed and groundwater models because the City of Blaine receives its drinking water from an underground aquifer. Next, they compared two creeks in their watershed: Dakota Creek, a salmon-bearing stream, and Cain Creek, which runs through Blaine and has not seen a salmon in many years. With a firsthand look at their own watershed, students quickly realized how urban environments act as a gauntlet for salmon returning to spawn, loaded with fish passage barriers such as road culverts.  

Water Sampling — a scientific assessment of pollution

Chemistry students at Meridian High learned that water’s unique chemical composition gives it the ability to dissolve more substances than any other liquid. This means wherever water goes, whether that be in our bodies or the ecosystem, it carries minerals, nutrients, and harmful substances along with it. Students sampled and analyzed water quality samples from Tenmile Creek to determine their watershed health. On a bus tour of their watershed, students saw livestock and berry farms surrounding Tenmile Creek — and saw the importance of vegetated buffers along the creek from each farm implementing Best Management Practices. 

Back in the classroom, the pieces to the orca puzzle fell into place.  After taking water samples and seeing firsthand how non-point source pollution enters their watershed, the students recognized that human actions and systems have repercussions that eventually make their way downstream and into the Salish Sea. 

Our everyday actions up here on land are causing problems at sea. So what can your average high school student do about it? Equipped with knowledge on water quality issues right where they live, students complete a stewardship action project. This fall, Meridian students made a social media post for their high school and did a campus litter cleanup after a football game. In Blaine, students removed invasive plants and planted native ones, completely transforming the riparian habitat that many students walk by each day. When the program is complete, students have a deeper understanding and the tools to make choices that reflect how they value clean water, and the people and environments that depend on it. 

For more information about the Young Water Stewards program, visit our website or contact Natalie Lord

Protecting What We Love: Whatcom Students are up to the Challenge!

posted Nov 15, 2018, 3:45 PM by Hannah Coughlin   [ updated Nov 15, 2018, 4:01 PM ]

School started across Whatcom County in late August and early September. I don’t know about you, but that feels like a lifetime ago! We at Sustainable Schools have a mission to help students understand the impacts their choices have on the world around them. Our goal is for students to walk away with a feeling of empowerment to protect our precious resources.

That sounds daunting.

But, in fact, whether in elementary, middle or high school, the youth of Whatcom County are more than up to the challenge. How do I know?

After explaining to a high school class that their food waste gets put on a truck or train and then shipped across the state to get dumped in a landfill when instead it could simply be composted right here in Whatcom County. I heard a “That ain’t right!” from the back of the classroom. I must agree. It isn’t right. But the youth of Whatcom County are ready to make some changes to set things right.

Take for example Mrs. Andrews and Mr. Johnson’s 3rd-grade classes at Acme Elementary who wanted to help the custodian, Jeff Schmidt, with his recycling duties. They decided to implement a recycling monitoring program in their school. After they learned about waste prevention, the students gifted every classroom at Acme with a decorated recycling bucket. Each bucket had photo examples of acceptable recyclables, along with hand-drawn pictures of recycling reminders. The students were so excited to learn about ways to reduce their waste and to help others to do the same.

At Birchwood Elementary in September over 500 pounds of clothing was donated to families for back to school needs. Before the Clothing Market was held, Birchwood hosted an all-school assembly where students learned about the importance of reusing or passing along textiles rather than sending them to the landfill. Sustainable Schools Green Classroom coordinator reinforced this education by leading waste prevention workshops with 2nd graders this fall.

Across town at Fairhaven Middle School, Joel Gillman’s 7th grade COMPASS students are learning about how bacteria, pesticides, and chemicals flow into our watershed through stormwater and they are taking action to reduce these pollutants. A Sustainable Schools Education Specialist led students outside around the campus so they could locate and label storm drains to educate others that stormwater goes directly into nearby Padden Creek and into Bellingham Bay. To help dog owners learn the importance of picking up after their pet, these students made “We Scoop” kits to give to new dog owners complete with personal note thanking them for protecting our water.

At the high school level, Sustainable Schools assisted the Environmental Club at Squalicum High School in conducting a waste audit in the cafeteria. After school last week, sixteen students used tongs to sift through the Food Plus and garbage bins to discover how well their fellow classmates are recycling or not. Students weighed and recorded the data and began to think about ways they can educate others about what items should go in the appropriate bins.

After investigating why the local orca Southern Residents are racing extinction, why Chinook salmon population is crashing, and why shellfish harvesting is restricted, Blaine high school students restored a riparian area of Cain Creek by removing invasive species and planting natives. Meridian high school students rejuvenated campus after a football game with several litter cleanups and then used social media as a platform to engage their fellow classmates on water quality issues in the Tenmile Creek watershed.

These students discovered the ingredients to Washington’s greatest source of pollution: stormwater runoff. They now have the knowledge base as Young Water Stewards to initiate change in their community’s watershed and ultimately the greater ecosystem health of the Salish Sea.

What incredible work the students of Whatcom County are doing. It seems that when they identify a problem, or something that “ain’t right”, they hold the knowledge and power to be able to fix it! Thank you to the teachers and administrations that partner with Sustainable Schools in order to continue to instill resilience in today’s students.

Easing the Burden on People and the Environment at Birchwood Elementary

posted Oct 3, 2018, 11:16 AM by Hannah Coughlin   [ updated Oct 3, 2018, 12:04 PM ]

by Sasha Savoian, Sustainable Schools Education Specialist

Purchasing clothing for the new school year can cause financial strain on families but children grow so much year to year it becomes necessary to replace the outgrown clothes. Then comes the question of what to do with the now ill fitting clothes piling up in closets and dresser drawers. The average American sends 70 pounds of textiles to the landfill each year creating one of the fastest growing waste streams. How best can we ease the burden both for people and for the environment?

On September 18th, Birchwood Elementary in partnership with RE Sources’ Sustainable Schools program hosted a Back-to-School Clothing Market where families could shop for free! Thanks to all the generous donations from our community, we successfully diverted 550 pounds of clothing from entering the landfill and into the hands of people who need it most. 

Volunteers and staff quickly transformed the cafeteria at Birchwood Elementary into a clothing market after school. Lunch tables were loaded with jeans, shirts, pants, sweaters, coats, sweatshirts, warm hats, shorts, dresses, skirts, backpacks, shoes, and sports equipment. Families slowly began filing in and in less an hour after opening the doors, the market was bustling with happy shoppers filling boxes and bags with clothing. Tables emptied as fast as volunteers could put out more clothing. Nearly all of the almost 600 pounds of donated textiles found new homes!

As I stood at the door greeting people or waving goodbye, dozens of people expressed gratitude for their new clothing as smiling students showed off their newly acquired items. One woman in particular talked to me for several minutes about what a blessing this event is for so many people and thanked me over and over. And almost every day since the market, a young student shows off her newly acquired sweatshirt jacket with warm pockets and hood to staff at school. So a hearty thank you to everyone that made this event possible.

For the environment, the textile and clothing industry is the second largest polluter behind the oil industry and uses vast amounts of water in manufacturing clothing. In the U.S. alone, 27 billion pounds of textiles end up in landfills every year, a number that continues to grow every year. Much of our clothing is made from synthetic material that takes hundreds of years to break down in a landfill contributing to water and air pollution. By donating clothes to those in our own community we are also reducing waste that ends up in landfills. Way to work together Bellingham to create change that matters!

Teaching STEM streamside and in the Classroom

posted Jun 7, 2018, 10:42 AM by Hannah Coughlin

By Andrea Reiter

After completing the Young Water Stewards program in my 15th classroom this year, a Ferndale High School student asked me what my favorite part about teaching this program was. With no hesitation I told the class that my favorite part is taking students to the creek to collect scientific data. 

There has been a big push for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) in the k-12 school system, the Young Water Stewards program combines all the components of STEM in the multi-day program. STEM is woven into the program through collecting stream-side water quality data, discussing how engineers design Best Management Practices to keep water clean, mathematics as the students analyse the water quality data they collected and compare it to historical data, and technology when we talk about applied science and future careers in the field of water science.

Every time students put on goggles and gloves and begin to test water quality I hear “I feel like a real scientist!” To which I reply, “You are a real scientist!”.

During their water quality testing in the field, students collect data on dissolved oxygen, temperature, pH, turbidity, and fecal coliform bacteria. When back in the classroom we stress the importance of multiple points of data over a period of time to create trends, human error in collecting data, and scale of the data we are collecting (if your measurement tool only reads to whole numbers, you cannot guess a half number eg. pH reads in between 7 and 7.5 on the test kit, we will record 7-7.5 rather than 7.25).

Unlike the scientific experiments students do in the classroom where the teacher knows what the results are, students in the Young Water Stewards program are doing applied science. Applied Science is when you take scientific processes and use them in the field to collect data. When we go to test water quality of a given creek, I don’t know what the pH, dissolved oxygen, temperature, or turbidity will be; we are all completing the study together. 

Back in the classroom while analyzing the results, students begin to theorize why a water quality parameter might be off. In the case of Schell Creek in Ferndale, some students collected a range of 5-
7 ppm for dissolved oxygen 
before the creek flows through a culvert (underground pipe) that goes under downtown Ferndale and then another class got 1.5-3 ppm downstream of the culvert. I asked the students why they think the dissolved oxygen might be lower downstream of the culvert and they came up with theories that included: there were no aquatic plants growing the the culvert because there is no sunlight, and the lack of contact with the atmosphere while the water was in the pipe might have caused the dissolved oxygen to decrease.

My biggest goal in teaching students about human land uses, non-point source pollution, and water quality issues is that they will begin to see the world around them differently. That they will begin to think more like scientists, ask questions, and make hypothesis about how we use the land and the implications that has on water quality. 

Learn more about the Young Water Stewards program, or sign your students up!

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