Green Programs Growing at Ingleside Schools

Jackie Bernardo

Environmental programs at two Ingleside District elementary schools are moving forward despite budget cuts that have left many other programs scrambling for resources.

Sunnyside Elementary, which developed its green team in November 2008, is finding ways for students reduce their impact on the environment, such as creating safe routes to the school and using compost bins.

The safe routes program encourages students to walk or ride their bikes to school, according to Cathy Meyer, the garden coordinator of the green team at Sunnyside. It also entails having the students put up signs that remind drivers to slow down.

The compost bins teach students how worms break down food. The students then use the compost for fertilizer.

Other green practices include reduced use of toxic cleaning chemicals and turning off unused lights. Students are also turning to natural snacks like oranges and carrot sticks instead of candy and cookies.

Sunnyside kindergarten teacher Leah Plack said students are now writing on both sides of paper and being more conscious the overall use of disposable materials.

“I really hope [students develop] better habits in their homes and middle school and onward,” said Plack. “We don’t have a limitless supply of things. A lot of kids aren’t aware of this and can take things for granted.”

After-school Garden
Sheridan Elementary has started an after-school gardening club that meets every Friday. Students learn to build a garden and take care of its plants.

They’ll also learn to raise money to construct more garden beds and to form partnerships with larger environmental programs that will help them use the outdoor environment as a classroom.

Students have built planter boxes, created a mural and planted a native garden, according to Philip Coffin, the site coordinator for the YMCA afterschool program. He said students are now raising money for more garden beds, setting up bird feeders and planting a garden that is meant to attract butterflies and hummingbirds.

Coffin said he does not know why the school did not have an environmental program prior to last year.

The program has survived with help from a supportive principal, motivated staff, parents who were willing to volunteer and space at the school that allowed projects to be conducted under full sunlight with access to water.

Volunteers also help. Sheridan received a grant from Lowe’s hardware store, but has grown largely with the help of volunteers, said green team leader Julie Tonroy. The school failed to win a second grant from Ecozone Media, but the process of applying helped to generate attention about the school’s program.

She said students are “very energetic [and] eager to learn.”

Tight Budgets
Starting programs on tight school budgets hasn’t been easy, said Rachel Pringle, program manager of the San Francisco Green Schoolyard Alliance.

“It can be an uphill battle at some times,” said Pringle, who also helped with programs at other Ingleside schools, including Jose Ortega Elementary.

“Most schools have budget constraints, and most of the schoolyards and school gardens are spirited by parents,” she said. “[However,] some schools often find that gardening programs are one of the most valuable things they can fund.”

Going forward, Tonroy said she wants students at Sunnyside to learn more than the basic “reduce, re-use, recycle” idea. She’s hoping to teach more complex concepts, such the threats of being exposed to harmful chemicals on a daily basis or how our food comes from natural resources.

“They are ultimately going to be the caretakers of the environment,” said Tonroy. “If they are not educated about how to shepherd the environment and take care of it, then their generation will have significant problems with regard to waste, water, transportation and food.”