These days, when visionary leadership on climate change issues seems lacking, one might draw inspiration from 30 seventh graders who were engaged in a sustainability project at The Watershed Institute.
Students from the Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart, a private school in Princeton, used the Watershed Center as a learning laboratory. They gained insights into energy use, green architecture, water conservation, recycling and other issues ranging from their lunchtime waste to controlling polluted stormwater with rain gardens.
Infused with this knowledge, the students were tasked with designing a sustainable school during their weeklong, project-based learning. Their project details ranged from budgets to mascots. Additionally, they were asked to meet with Stuart School staff – ranging from the chef to athletic staff – to recommend ways to integrate sustainability in their roles.
“We’re really committed to teaching the kids how to be good stewards of the earth,” said science teacher Craig Berman. “They are here to learn about sustainability, see features in this building and learn the language for their own projects.”
History teacher Karin McLaughlin said the student teams decided how to build and display their projects, ranging from virtual, computer presentations to physical models.
“It is amazing when you give the kids a problem or task how they come up with very creative solutions,” she said.
Formed into several teams, the students then toured the building and nearby property, did scavenger hunts about building materials and played Green Jeopardy to become more conversant with the concepts.
“We learned a lot about how water is filtered and basically how to keep the environment clean and not waste water,” said Mishal Zaidi, 13.
Tara Billa, 12, said the experience will help her start changing her behavior, such as turning off the water when she’s brushing her teeth.
“This gives me a deeper understanding of what happens if you keep the water running,” she said. “This experience will help me learn new habits.”
Darren Malone, Director of Facilities and Sustainable Planning at the Stuart School, told the students, “If you want to be an architect, a planner, a chef, or something else, sustainability is important across everything you could choose to do.”
After a week of in-school classwork, the students returned to the Watershed and presented their sustainable school models to an audience of parents, Watershed staff and Stuart School head, Patty L. Fagin.
Parent Ari Soroken said, “This was a great way for them to learn about bringing in environmental consciousness while you’re growing an institution or business.”