Written by: Rachel Black, FoodCorps Service Member with Garden School Foundation
Standing outside of the cafeteria every Friday and singing, chanting, and reminding every student that “WE ARE COMPOSTING TODAY” can get a little tiring and redundant. However, when this fun reminder is met with screams of joy, I used to think that my heart couldn’t feel any warmer. I was so excited to serve at Jackson STEM Dual Language Magnet Academy this year, and even more excited when I heard they were partnering with Grades of Green to participate in their Trash Free Lunch Challenge, a competition amongst LA County schools to see who can reduce their lunch time trash the most. This competition not only reduces the amount of trash going to the landfill from each school, but educates the students about environmental protection habits. I partnered with the program to start a Friday lunch composting initiative.
We launched on the first Friday of November to, as I mentioned earlier, screams of joy by the kinders and first graders. Their energy, excitement and cheers of joy were so contagious I found myself smiling throughout both lunches. My enthusiasm jumped again when some 3rd and 4th graders skipped their recess to help with the 2nd graders lunch. I saw the pride that they took in helping the ‘little kids’ compost their lunch. They were so proud to wear the Grades of Green apron, to help separate their trash and to show them where the compost was.
As I walked to the cafeteria doors for the 5th grade lunch, I breathed a sigh of relief as they were clearly old enough to handle this situation with very little guidance. As I opened the door and greeted the first students the high from the day crashed when the first response was “ugh that starts today Miss Rachel? Then I’m not going to lunch”. I think my mouth probably just hung open for a couple seconds with a look of shock as they stood in the door contemplating whether or not to go inside.
I was still pretty disheartened about this when I returned to school on Tuesday. I figured I would talk to them during our next class and figure out what was going on. However, as I walked into school I saw Isabella, a first grader, who quickly flagged me down and started telling me about a sleepover she had on Friday at her house. I was pretty curious as to where this story was going when she finished with “and I asked my mom if we could compost at my sleepover and we DID! It was so fun!”. THIS, truly warmed my heart more than anything. It totally eclipsed the negativity of the 5th graders and gave me renewed energy and determination to change their state of mind. I knew that if I could get this 1st grader so excited about composting that she requested to do it as a fun sleepover event, I could get the 5th graders to compost willingly and hopefully get a few excited about it. While composting is still not met with screams of joy by the 5th graders, they have slowly become less and less resistant to it and pretty much do it on their own each Friday. Whenever I get disappointed by their lack of enthusiasm, I think of Isabella and her composting sleepover and know that when she’s in 5th grade, she may not still compost at her sleepovers, but she will compost without being reminded, have good memories of it, and understand the importance of her actions and that is all I can ask for, though screams of joy would still be appreciated.
About the Author: After receiving her Bachelor’s degree from American University and teaching English in Korea, Rachel relocated to Los Angeles and began interning with local non-profit organization, Garden School Foundation. Upon the end of her internship and teaching countless of students in cooking and gardening classes, Rachel joined the organization as the second FoodCorps service member. She now serves in PUSD and LAUSD with Jackson STEM Dual Language Magnet Academy and Rockdale Elementary.
Garden School Foundation (GSF) is a non-profit in Los Angeles whose mission is to provide meaningful education for underserved youth in Los Angeles through garden-based learning in outdoor living classrooms. GSF works with Title 1 schools to sustainably implement their seed to table curriculum of experiential standards-based lessons in all academic subjects, as well as cooking and nutrition, to strengthen the connection between education, health, environmental awareness, and thriving communities. To learn more, visit their website.
FoodCorps is a nationwide team of AmeriCorps leaders who connect kids to real food and help them grow up healthy. To find out more, please visit their website.