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.
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