Transportation: Discounted student Charlie Cards

Original post from Newton Safe Routes to School – 

Did you know there are MBTA bus routes to all secondary schools? Each middle (main office) and high (house office) school has discounted student Charlie Cards that cut the cost of the ride in half. The cards work on the subway, too, so are a great way for your tween/teen to get around town on weekends and after school.
* South, Oak Hill, Brown, Bigelow: Bus #52
* North & Day: Bus #59
* Bigelow is also served by the #57, #501 and #503 and Day by #556.
* North:  #553, #554, and #556 routes!

Safe Routes to School Newton Task Force

The SRTS – Newton task Force was created 12 years ago by a group of concerned parents to address the issue of too many vehicles at our schools.

Safe Routes is a collaborative, community-focused approach that bridges the gap between health and transportation. Representatives from each school, Newton Police, DPW, City Council, the Mayor’s Office, the School Committee, and and MassDOT meet monthly on Fridays at 9:30 a.m. at the Waban Library.

2019-2020 Meeting dates: Sept 13, Oct 18, Nov 15, Dec 13, Jan 10, Feb 7, Mar 13, Apr 3, May 8, and June

SRTS utilizes the six E’s to implement its program- Education, Encouragement, Enforcement, Evaluation, Engineering, and Equity. Learn more about the six E’s at MassGov Safe Routes to School website.

Overlap and opportunities with GN School Connections

  • Anti-idling campaigns. Signs from MA DEP’s “The Green Team“, new Blue Zone signs, education campaigns
  • Active transportation. Mode shift from individual car trips to walking and biking
  • Communal transportation: Mode shift from individual car trips to bus and carpools. Discounted Charlie Card Campaign
  • Combine efforts and volunteers on joint initiatives

School reps from Williams, Burr and Bigelow are needed!

Contact: [email protected]

Follow Newton SRTS on Facebook @NewtonSafeRoutes

“School lunches a balancing act to satisfy diverse populations, loosened regulations”

Original post from Wicked Local – 

(Below is an excerpt. Read full article here)

Newton Public Schools uses Whitsons’ service. Stephen Marshall, the business and grant analyst for the district who oversees their partnership with Whitsons, said his schools really want to be sure students eat their lunch.

“Eliminating waste is key,” he said. “For us, it’s a matter of offering the most-nutritional options that students are likely to eat. That’s the balancing act. It does us no good if we offer healthy foods that kids take one bite out of and then throw away.”

Marshall said exposing different foods to children at as early an age as possible will encourage them to seek out different meals as they grow older.

“When kids are exposed to whole grains at an early age, for example, they will be much more likely to accept that food in their diets once they have to make the choice to buy lunch at school,” he said.

A shift in regulations

In late 2018, the United States Department of Agriculture, under the direction of President Donald Trump, finalized plans to roll back regulations set forth in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 that were advocated for by then-first lady Michelle Obama. Specifically, the rollback lowered nutrition standards for whole grains, flavored beverages and the sodium content of lunches served in school cafeterias.

Friend said it is ultimately up to individual districts to decide if they want to change their nutritional offerings, but Whitsons advocates for the guidelines outlined in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. For example, the new regulations will require 50 percent whole-grain offerings, but Whitsons will continue to offer a 100 percent whole-grain menu.

Friend acknowledged some districts might consider it a positive to be able to offer fewer whole grains, if they think students will be more likely to buy the alternatives. She said plain bagels and white rice are common examples of this. This gets at the balancing act of offering healthy foods versus providing options students will actually order.

“A lot of it is a perception,” she said. “If kids are more familiar with white products, that’s what they want to eat. But the younger the student is, the more likely it is that they will have been given those options their whole lives.”

Marshall said Newton will continue to adhere to the guidelines in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, even though participation in the school lunch program is around 30 percent, a number he considers “relatively low.”

“No matter what, it would be a big step backward to undo all the hard work we did after the (Obama-era) regulations were formed,” he said. “I think a lot of people realize the value of eating healthier and cutting certain things out of their diets.”

By Matthew Reid, Aug 27, 2019

Food Services: Focus on nutritious and delicious food, and sustainability

Food Service will be provided by Whitsons this year at Newton Public Schools. Whitsons was selected as the new vendor in May mainly because they promised to focus on serving nutritious and delicious food, keeping sustainability a priority and ensuring students are at their best. School Connections played an active role in advocating for this, and now our job is to make sure this becomes a reality. One of the ways we will be doing it is by participating in the recently formed Food Service Advisory Group (FSAG), which has representatives from all Newton Schools.

If you would like to provide feedback, ask questions or express concerns about the new food service provider at your school, please complete this form created by FSAG: Food Service Community Comment Form

Check out the updated website where you can find menus, allergy information and more.

Here is an excerpt from Whitsons’ Welcome page:

Food Waste Reduction 

Whitsons is committed to doing our part when it comes to food loss and waste reduction. By keeping wholesome and nutritious food in our communities and out of our landfills, we are helping address far-reaching impacts on food security, resource conservation, and climate change. As a U.S. Food Loss and Waste 2030 Champion, Whitsons is striving to reduce food loss and waste in all operations by 50 percent by 2030 through activities targeting the prevention of food loss and waste before it arises, recovery of wholesome otherwise wasted food for donation, and recycling of food loss and waste to other uses such as animal feed, compost, and energy generation.

Whitsons is pleased to introduce Meatless Monday to your school cafeteria!

Meatless Monday is a science-based public health initiative associated with Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. Its goal is to reduce chronic preventable diseases by encouraging less consumption of meat. This campaign will enable school staff and students to make even more nutritious choices, as well as help improve the health of the planet. By adopting Meatless Monday, we are helping to move towards a more sustainable food system and healthier eating habits that last a lifetime.

Meatless Monday will feature meal options made without meat each Monday. To be clear, dishes with meat will still be offered on Mondays; we are just providing new meatless options. We hope that students will enjoy our new meatless menu offering and will support the Meatless Monday campaign along with us.

“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

From the Mayor: “Use Less and Green the Rest”

Original post from Mayor’s Update  – 

(Below is and excerpt. Read full article about Newton climate action plan here)

Use Less and Green the Rest
The plan reflects the strategic mantra: “Use less and green the rest.”
“Using less” will require us to increase energy efficiency in all buildings through electrification and insulated building envelopes; develop walkable and transit-oriented neighborhoods and business districts; reduce reliance on single occupancy gas and diesel vehicles; increase our biking, walking, and use of shared rides and public transportation; and minimize our “embodied carbon” emissions (the greenhouse gas emissions associated with extracting, manufacturing, and transporting materials for buildings, vehicles, roads, etc.).
“Greening the rest” means using renewable energy sources (such as solar and wind) instead of fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas, and oil to generate clean electrical power; electrifying everything we can – building heating and cooling systems, vehicles and transportation systems; and capturing carbon from the atmosphere by expanding our street tree canopies and forested spaces.
By Mayor Fuller, Aug 23, 2019

Join our first meeting of the School Year on August 29

Are you looking for a way to make your child’s school healthier and more sustainable? Healthier lunches? Recycling? Come add your voice to the GN Schools Connections group on Thursday, August 29 from 3:45-5pm in the third-floor arc area of the Newton Free Library (330 Homer St., Newton).

Green Newton’s Schools Connections group provides a forum for parents, students, and educators to promote sustainability in the classroom and beyond. You are welcome to participate as we share experiences and ideas that support f green initiatives in our schools.

After our group reached out to the Newton School Committee about the need to improve recycling in Newton’s schools, the committee passed a new school recycling policy in the spring of 2019. In addition, our advocacy was instrumental in getting the city to consider environmental practices and waste reduction in schools when selecting a new food service vendor. Representatives of the group will also participate in discussions to improve food quality and sustainability in school cafeterias.

In June, we worked with city leaders to submit a state grant application to support the expansion of the school recycling program. We are also advocating for the city’s approval to set up textile recycling collection containers outside of each school building. For more information contact: [email protected] or visit

Back to School Tip: “Avoid School Supplies Laced with Toxic Chemicals”

Original post from EWG Children’s Health Initiative  – 

As the first day of school is fast approaching, a new study by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group(USPIRG) found harmful chemicals in everyday school supplies that could be in your child’s classroom or backpack. Here’s what all parents should know about this new report:

Crayons – The study tested six brands of crayons for asbestos, the toxic building and insulation material that causes mesothelioma, a deadly cancer. One major brand, Playskool Crayons, had detectable levels of asbestos. These findings are consistent with EWG Action Fund’s 2015 report that found traces of asbestos in crayons and other children’s toys sold nationwide.

Markers – USPIRG tested a number of markers for toxic volatile solvents such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene, which are petroleum substances also found in fracking wastewater.  EXPO scented and The Board Dudes dry erase markers had detectable levels of these harmful chemicals.

Binders – Three binder brands were tested for phthalates, plastic-softening chemicals that have links to early puberty in girls and harm to the reproductive system. The brand that tested positive for phthalates was Jot 1-inch 3-ring binders, which are sold at Dollar Tree. In 2008, the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned six phthalates in children’s toys, and in bottles, cups and pacifiers for children 3 years old and under, yet these chemicals are still found in products children use on an everyday basis.

Water Bottles – USPIRG also highlighted two water bottles that tested positive for lead and were recalled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The two bottles in question were Base Brands Children’s Reduce Hydro Pro Furry Friends water bottle sold on Amazon and at Costco and the GSI Outdoors Kids’ insulated water bottles sold at L.L. Bean. Lead is a potent neurotoxin that impairs children’s intellectual development and alters their behavior and ability to concentrate. As the lead crisis in America rages on, we recently learned that testing for lead in the water of both primary schools and day care centers is woefully lacking.

Stay tuned to the EWG Children’s Health Initiative site for the latest breaking news and analysis on all things regarding kids’ health.

By Robert Coleman, Project Manager EWG (August 28, 2018).

Bigelow Middle School Grade 8 Environmental Journalism Project

Science teachers, Ms. Hoffman and Ms. Giguere, designed the project for their students to experience investigating and reporting on a local environmental issue.

The website created last June is a showcase for the news stories created by the Bigelow Middle School class of 2019 for an 8th grade environmental journalism project.
As you visit the website you will read the results of their students’ hard work.

Click here to learn more about the project and the process.
Click here to view the students’ environmental news stories.

WBUR’s Barbara Moran spoke to 8th graders about her path to becoming an environmental journalist.

Deanna Hoffman is part of School Connections and she invited some School Connections members, including Marcia Cooper and Andy Gluck, to give interviews to students.

Back to School Tip: “REUSE School Supplies and Shop Eco-Friendly!”

Original post from Green Newton – 

Preparing for the new school year presents a great opportunity for kids (and parents) to learn environmental lessons. During summer vacation, set aside school supplies that can be reused come September, including notebooks with blank pages, pens and pencils, and paper that was used only on one side (use the other side for scrap paper). Also, clean and repair backpacks for future use, and try to reuse or recycle electronic devices.

Before you shop, make a list of what you already have for the school year and buy only what you need, and in the store, choose paper, pens. and pencils with recycled content. Look for nontoxic products that aren’t sold with a lot of packaging, and explore ways to reuse the product packaging. Resale shops such as Goodwill now have office and school supply sections. Try organizing a school supply swap with local families. It could be the start of a fun annual tradition!