By Ankita Rao
It’s Earth Day at Pinewood Elementary School and things are looking pretty green.
Green t-shirts, green gummy snacks – even a student’s hair is sprayed to match the theme of the environmentally conscious school in Timonium, Maryland.
For NEA’s Lorax Student Earth Day on Thursday, students cozied up to readings of Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, a rhyming reminder of preserving the earth, before enjoying a sunny spring day of activities.
A green message isn’t new for Pinewood’s students. The hallways are telltale: used bottle caps transform into colorful art pieces, recycling bins dot each corner, signs posted above light switches remind that “Kindergarteners ask you to turn off the lights.”
It’s exactly this kind of enthusiasm that powers the school’s efforts in recycling, limiting waste, and learning about the ecosystem, an initiative that earned them NEA’s first Green Across America Grant for one thousand dollars, presented to the school on Thursday afternoon.
NEA’s grant, presented to the entire school on Thursday, is part of a new Green Across America program in conjunction with Target that will award $50,000 to educators who implement “green” activities, lessons and events.
“For our kids to be cognizant of the environment is just as essential as being able to read,” says Len Palillo, an NEA Executive Committee member who read to classes at the event.
But the motivation behind the Pinewood’s transformation has less to do with recognition, and more to do with dedicated educators looking out for their students, and consequently, the earth.
“It’s so beautiful, and it’s so important. I don’t want my grandchildren in a polluted world,” says Janice Delaney, a teacher at Pinewood.
Her colleagues describe her as the teacher who “bleeds green”, and Delaney confesses to saving old pencils and school materials just before they are swept off by the janitorial staff. She and 2nd grade teacher Crystal Westerberg help lead the school in eco-friendly practices and curriculum with a binder full of ideas and a packed schedule of plans.
Their passion is reflected in over 500 seeds donated for everyone student’s home, an energy audit for the complete school, and regular tracking of the decreasing trash and waste.
Conserving goes one step further at Pinewood, where staff members are careful to reuse and recycle ink cartridges, glue stick containers and juice pouches.
“I’m seeing an environmental understanding that I didn’t see ten years ago,” says integrative technology teacher, Cathy Cerveny.
In addition to their indoor efforts, students at Pinewood planted a garden to honor a student who recently passed away, and 25 trees to add to their campus. The result is a remarkably lush landscape, complete with a pristine baseball field, playgrounds, and inviting shade.
Lucy Jung, a second grade student in Westerberg’s class, is clad in a green t-shirt and flowered bucket hat for Earth Day. “I learned not to cut down trees, because they give oxygen, and help us live,” she says.
Jung likes recycling old things into new, and helping her parents pack lunch in a way that limits trash – a necessity for the school’s No Trash Fridays.
Delaney says she relies on involved parents, community donors, and an active staff to support her vision, recalling when her request for pinecones resulted in hundreds passed from backyards to classrooms.
“There’s no way you can do this alone,” she says. “I ask for one and I get a million.”
With the grant from NEA, her ideas will continue to thrive. She foresees restoring the meadows behind the school, starting a vegetable garden, and promoting more outdoor learning.
In fact, Pinewood principal Kathy Arnold unveiled a new outdoor classroom on Earth day to the students, NEA members, and community leaders. A circle of tree stumps, provided by local Boy Scout Michael O’Dwyer, 14, will provide a space for children to learn under surrounding trees.
Maryland Education Association President Clara Floyd says environmental education is on everyone’s mind at a state level. She hopes that Maryland’s upcoming election will continue to reflect these initiatives. “We care about the safety and environment that our children learn in,” she says. “I’m passionate about that.”
Local councilmen, the school superintendent, and president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County (TABCO), Cheryl Bost, joined Floyd and the NEA at the Earth Day event to present the grant check to Pinewood Elementary School.
Pinewood teacher Cerveny credits her students, having learned about recycling in other schools or from friends, for planting the initial seeds of a green program at Pinewood.
“We’re not just four walls, we’re a total community,” Cerveny says. “The teaching continues outside of the classroom.”