NPS Superintendent Addresses Sustainability in his January Update

In his periodic update to the Newton school community sent out on January 21st, David Fleishman talked about sustainability in our schools.  “Many of our students are at the forefront of this issue, as evidenced by their powerful speeches to our School Committee last week.” (See the Jan 13th meeting minutes here, and one of the speeches here). 

Read the full newsletter here:  News from the Superintendent (January 2020)

Together with Dr. Fleishman, we look forward to “strengthening our own sustainable practices as a district while continuing to provide our students with multiple opportunities to learn about, engage in, model, and actively support a more sustainable planet.” 

Green Newton School Connections has been working with the district and the city as a member of the School Sustainability Working Group. We are thankful for the partnership in helping to engage with families,  propose policy, and support sustainable practices and more environmental literacy and climate education. 

Please take a look at our  initiatives here. And join us! All are invited to attend our meetings

Sustainability Efforts within NPS in 2019

From the School Committee Jan 13, 2020 Update – 

“Sustainability Update: Presented by Liam Hurley, Assistant Superintendent/ Chief Financial & Administrative Officer
Highlights of the presentation included:
– 2019 Goals met: School Sustainability Working Group formed and meeting monthly since June 2019, System-Wide Goals approved, sustainability page published on NPS website.
– 2020 Goals include: Promote recycling and waste management, reduce single-use plastics, food waste reduction, promote sustainable transportation, support sustainable sourcing of energy and participating in a culture shift towards a more sustainable Newton community.”

See the full  Sustainability Update presentation here.
Link to the School Committee Newsletters

More about Sustainability at NPS and the School Sustainability Working Group

Newton North Sustainability Day 2019

The first Newton North Sustainability Day was a huge success on Nov 26th. The event was an initiative of the NNHS Sustainability Program, lead by Anndy Dannenberg and  Kathryn Teissier du Cros, and co-sponsored by NNHS Center for Civic Engagement and Service, Climate Advocacy Club and NNHS Next Gen Voices Club.

The day was truly a success in engaging hundreds of our students in learning more about local efforts to promote sustainable solutions. In addition to hearing from speakers in the public and private sectors, students appreciated the opportunity to speak to you directly and understand how organizations like Green Newton are effectively advocating and advancing our goals to create a more sustainable Newton.

– Alison Montague, Program Coordinator – NNHS Center for Civic Engagement and Service (CCES)

The day included speakers from the City of Newton Departments of Transportation and Waste Management, Bike Newton , Newton Safe Routes to School, State Sreet Bank. Greener U, Bentley University, University of Vermont, WSP USA Planning, Thread ED, Newton City Councilors and more…

Local environmental organizations had tables on Main Street, including Green Newton School Connections,  Cradles to Crayons MassachusettsNewton Community FarmThe Food Project, and Newton Recycling.

And the NNHS Jubilee Singers gave a special concert focused on Social Justice. Video by Terry Yoffie

More images at the NNHS Center for Civic Engagement and Service Facebook page

 

School Sustainability Working Group

Newton Public Schools have installed a School Sustainability Working Group (SSWG), which seeks to promote and increase sustainable practices within the Newton Public Schools. Partnering with Green Newton School Connections, the SSWG will work to improve sustainable practices in the areas of transportation, energy, recycling, and food services.

The School Sustainability Working Group includes the representation from NPS administration, facilities, educators, school committee members, Whitsons (food service partner), City of Newton Department of Public Works and Department of Sustainability. 

Green Newton School Connections initiative provides an opportunity for families to collaborate with the district in bringing sustainable practices and environmental education directly into the Newton Public Schools.

So far, SSWG has worked on:

The groups goals for 2020 are:

  • Promote recycling efforts at individual Newton schools
  • Identify feasible methods for reduce single-use plastics, especially at school cafeterias
  • Coordinate with Food Service Advisory Group (FSAG) on actionable waste reduction goals
  • Promote more active and sustainable transportation to school
  • Support sustainable use and sourcing of energy, including solar panels

More at NPS > Families > Buildings & Operations > Sustainability

For a full, detailed description of the School Sustainability Working Group, please download this document: SSWG Purpose, Structure, Objectives, and Timeline.

2020 NPS Systemwide Goals include Sustainability

Sustainability is now part of the Newton Public Schools Systemwide Goals for 2020, along with specific goals to improve transportation in the district. 

After three rounds of discussion, the School Committee voted unanimously to approve the FY20 Systemwide Goals which include “Initiate Development of School Sustainability Working Group” and a third Managerial Goal of Transportation on the 9/16/2019 meeting

Read full document here: FY20 Systemwide Goals

Sustainability

The first Managerial Goal for NPS regards School Facilities. It aims to continually update the plan for educational space both short-term and long-term. Five managerial goals were defined for this year, including (on page 10):

Targeted Action Steps Anticipated Outcomes
Initiate Development of a School Sustainability Working Group (SSWG) with the purpose to promote and increase sustainable practices within the Newton Public Schools (NPS) with an initial emphasis on improving waste diversion efforts. • Review SSWG goals and objectives with School Committee.
• Development of website section to highlight our mission and goals.
• Implement textile recycling bins at each school where feasible.

Learn more about the School Sustainability Working Group (SSWG) here

Transportation

Transportation is this year the third Managerial Goal, aiming to strengthen transportation practices to address students’ safety and health, traffic congestion, and impact of district
initiatives and elementary district boundary changes. (page 13)

Targeted Action Steps Anticipated Outcomes
Continue the work on the School Transportation Steering Group (STSG) planning to address policy development and transportation-related student safety and health, traffic congestion, and impact of district initiatives and elementary district boundary changes. Seek feedback on all proposals and communicate to stakeholders. • Submit draft Transportation related policy for School Committee review
• Review and develop plans for pilots (Horace Mann, Cabot and Newton South), and other identified schools
• Optimize district website for communication and parent engagement
• Adjust timeline for bus application process.
• Review and update practices for bus pass checks.
• Review Private School Bus Transportation Practices
• Work with the communication and IT departments to improve communication with families regarding transportation.
• More timely and efficient bus application process.
• Clear policy on bus pass checks at schools including procedure/ramifications for elementary and secondary students without a bus pass.
• Adjust Private School Transportation Practices based on review.
• Communication-enhanced ability for families to receive timely information regarding delays and other issues.

 

“Back to School with Sustainability in Mind”

Original post from Eartheasy – 

The back-to-school supply list can be bewildering enough on its own, but throw in environmental considerations, and you may find your head spinning. Don’t despair — below are some strategies for limiting the eco-impact of sending kids back to school.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2015 and has been updated.

The Other 4 Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rethink

Though marketers work hard to tempt our kids with new, shiny back-to-school gear each fall, by reusing what you have and buying used, you can minimize kids’ back-to-school footprints. Thrift stores, consignment shops, and secondhand stores have multiplied in recent years, and many rummage sales have loads of kids’ gear. You can often find almost-new clothes and equipment for a fraction of the cost of buying new, leaving you with more money for high-quality (and long-lasting) or sustainably made items when you do need to buy new.

Littler kids probably won’t care much whether they’re wearing last year’s outfits, hand-me-downs, or thrift-shop finds, as long as they’re comfortable and have fun designs. Our neighborhood has a thriving hand-me-down chain; my 2-year-old’s clothes have been worn by at least four other kids, and her outgrown duds go to two more kids (and presumably more after that) till everything is worn to shreds and heads to textile recycling or the rag bin. We rarely need to buy anything, and when we do, most comes from garage sales or one of the local used clothing stores, which support community programs. Saves us all a bundle, puts our money to work for good causes, and keeps us from contributing to the economy of waste. And consider: If we bought it all new, how much less would we have for things far more important to our kids’ well-being, like healthy food and enrichment activities?

Older kids may be more conscious of style and push back more, but if they’ve absorbed your ‘used-is-better’ ethic, they might be on board with secondhand gear. Your back-to-school preparations can serve as teaching moments: Develop guidelines together to help kids dress the way they want without consuming unnecessary resources. Begin by evaluating what they already have, and together figure out what gaps need filling. Then give them a budget and let them decide how to spend it, beginning with your local secondhand stores. The lure of the mall might diminish when they discover that a big bag full of like-new clothes costs less than one new pair of jeans.

Likewise, ask if last year’s backpack and lunch case can make it another year and if not, seek secondhand replacements before purchasing new ones. For clothes and gear you do buy new, look for recycled content and sustainably-grown fibers. Also try strategies like line-drying and mending to help extend the usable life of kids’ gear.

Sustainable Supplies

This part of back-to-school shopping can get pretty complicated. Teachers want certain types of notebooks, markers, and so on, and sustainable options are not always easy to find. Start by figuring out what you have already; you’ve likely stashed a variety of writing utensils to fill the pencil case and don’t need to buy a whole new pack. Can partly-used notebooks serve another year if you remove the used sheets? When you do need to buy new, look for notebooks made with recycled content and pencils sourced from sustainably-managed forests (look for the FSC logo). In recent years, consumer demand for such products have made them more readily available.

If your supply list includes paper towels, wipes, and hand sanitizers, try sending in the eco-friendly options that have become increasingly easy to find. Likely no one will complain; perhaps your teacher will even come to prefer and recommend the healthier alternatives.

 

Limiting the Impact of Lunch

Perhaps even more significant than the once-a-year school purchases are the daily impacts of school lunches. The EPA estimates that each student in the United States contributes 67 pounds of lunch waste annually, adding up to well over a million tons of preventable trash. Thankfully, parents and school systems have begun working to bring this alarming number down.

Healthy, no-waste lunches take a little bit of planning but have become easier with the proliferation of lunch box options and reusable containers of various types. Everywhere you turn at this time of year, someone is promoting deals on single-serve applesauce and drink boxes for school lunches. Just say no to the extra waste and try these nifty reusable tools instead:

  • Bento boxes

    Bento boxes have caught on in a big way, and the choices can be overwhelming. If you’re looking to avoid exposure to plastics, there are some excellent metal options available. Though you will find many plastic products labeled “BPA-free,” recent research suggests that BPA’s replacementsaren’t necessarily any safer, leaching chemicals you probably don’t want your kids to ingest. Smaller metal containers for soup, yogurt, dips, and sauce help you skip those plastic-intensive, single-use options at the grocery store. There are also new bamboo mess kits made from 90% natural materials (bamboo, starch, and resin) and perfect for lunchtime.

  • Kids’ metal drink bottles

    No need for single-serve milk or juice cartons, saving tons of unnecessary paper and plastic from entering the waste stream.

  • Reusable sandwich and snack bags

    Made from platinum silicone, reusable sandwich bags can be washed or wiped and used again—and again. They don’t contain plastic and won’t end up in the landfill, since they can be infinitely recycled at the end of their lifespan. Other options include sealed silicone bags and reusable lidsto top your mason jars.

  • Beeswax wraps

    These wax-infused cloths hug sandwiches, fruit, and dry snacks with ease, replacing plastic cling-wrap. Wipe clean using cold water at the end of the day and they’re ready to use again.

  • Utensils

    Have a set that travels to school, or just use what you already have. Why buy throwaways when it’s easy to just wash everything at the end of the day with all the other dishes?

  • Cloth napkins

    A set of small cloth napkins (or even baby wash cloths) will keep your child from throwing away hundreds of paper napkins each year.

As with so many “green” alternatives, the cost of the reusable options is quickly recouped by the savings from skipping disposable versions.

What to pack in all this great reusable gear? You get to pass on packaged convenience foods, which besides creating a lot of unnecessary trash, are rarely healthy. A sandwich or leftovers plus some fresh fruit and vegetables takes little time to prepare and will ensure your kids are powering their day with real food.

There’s a cottage industry in Pinterest-worthy kids’ lunches these days, so check out some pictures of inspiring bentos packed by green, health-conscious parents. Involve kids in the menu planning and prep; they’ll love helping make fun items like veggie sticks for dipping in hummus, pocket or wrap sandwiches, and homemade muffins or granola bars.

For more back-to-school recipes check out the School Year Survival Cookbook by Laura Keogh and Ceri Marsh.

Get Your School Involved

Many schools have joined campaigns that work to reduce school waste and students’ exposure to toxins. Some have started composting programs, a great learning experience for students that teachers can connect to science, math, or other curricular elements. If your school does not yet compost, join forces with other parents and begin an initiative of your own.

A school garden is another excellent option for increasing sustainability at school. Studies have shown that children with access to school gardens benefit from more than the vegetables. Talk to your child’s principal or parent advisory committee for more information on what’s possible in your area.

Don’t forget to consider travel to and from school and activities. Walk, bike, or carpool whenever possible, and when you do drive, don’t let your car idle in the pickup lane. You’ll save gas, reduce emissions, and protect all those school kids from pollutants. Engage other parents to do likewise, and together we can work to make this school year more sustainable.

Further Resources

Center for Ecoliteracy’s Rethinking School Lunch Guide
Tips for Sustainable Wear

by Susannah Shmurak, 2015, updated in August 2019