By Carol Maoz, Head of School
Our planet has a plastic waste problem and Foote students and teachers have taken up the cause—in their classrooms and communities—with a sense of joy and purpose. At every grade level, students are leading efforts to reduce the amount of trash and recycling we produce as a school and to educate our community about the harm caused by plastic waste and how we can produce less of it.
In first grade, students figured out that by replacing their classroom trash cans with repurposed Animal Crackers containers they could avoid using 30 plastic trash can liners every week—more than 1,000 plastic bags over the course of a school year! This homegrown project not only empowered students to make a positive change in their community, it provided an authentic math problem to develop higher-order thinking.
In Middle School, after learning about ways that plastic damages watersheds, a group of students worked with their science teachers during study halls and after school to design solutions as part of a nationwide contest sponsored by National Geographic. Their ideas won these Foote students the chance to present their innovations at a regional conference in Massachusetts.
Environmentalism at Foote is not new, of course. The spring 1990 issue of Foote Prints tells about Earth Day/Week activities that included students planting trees, experimenting with worm composting, writing letters and petitions to state lawmakers, and performing an environmentally themed “Wheel of Fortune” skit at an all-school assembly. Environmental Action Group, the student club formed in the late 1980s, is as active as ever, organizing beach cleanups, environment-themed movie screenings and more.
What is new, perhaps, is the sense of urgency, specifically around plastic waste. Almost daily we read stories about its impacts on marine life, ecosystems and human health. According to the nonprofit Plastic Oceans, the world currently produces almost 300 million tons of plastic every year—fully half of which is for single use. And with foreign markets for recycled plastics drying up, there is a growing impetus to produce and use less plastic overall.
By embracing this challenge, we are empowering Foote students to take charge of their learning and their futures. Solving problems as vexing as this will require a strong foundation in science, technology, engineering and math, as well as creativity, empathy and cross-cultural understanding. Above all, perhaps, it will take a mindset that views big challenges as something to embrace rather than fear. That is our mission at Foote School. It always has been and remains so today.
This article was originally published in the fall 2019 issue of Foote Prints magazine.