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Mar 112009

By Michele Chan Santos
Green Right Now

When the students at Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter High School in Washington, D.C., learned about the environmental impact of trash, they wanted to make a change in their own school.

Thurgood Marshall, with 365 students in grades 9 through 12, is a college preparatory school with a focus on law and legal careers. But thanks to teachers like Sam Ullery, 29, who teaches 9th grade earth science and 12th grade environmental science, the students also are learning many hands-on ways they can reduce their impact on the earth.

Across the country, in preparation for Earth Day and in response to growing public awareness of climate change, students and teachers are not only learning about the environment but using that knowledge to change their schools.

At Thurgood Marshall, Ullery, Sarah Johnson, who teaches 10th grade biology, and Scott Guggenheimer, the after-school activity director, decided to coordinate science lessons with the activities of the school’s Green Club.

For one project, they helped the students weigh all the trash that their school produced, and then focused on ways they could recycle more and throw away less. (See photo of the weigh-in.)

The Green Club members and science students began a worm compost pile, and today much of the leftovers from school cafeteria trays and lunchboxes gets chewed up in the worm-eating factory.

The rich organic compost that the worms generate, in turn, nourishes the school’s garden. And the school garden returns the favor with produce that the students can take home to eat with their families.

The students also conduct water testing to learn about the local Anacostia River watershed. (See photo left.)

In addition, they are making a film about where food comes from “and how too much of our school lunches gets thrown away,” said Ullery. “For our documentary, we have cameras, lights, microphones, and the kids are working as sound editors, producers and writers.”

In his classroom, Ullery sometimes uses lesson plans from Earth Day Network, and the D.C.-based network also sponsors the school’s Green Club.