Green Club: A Reflection on Partnership
By AUSTIN F. SCHWARTZ
About the Author: Austin F. Schwartz, Ed.D. is a practicing school psychologist as well as an adjunct professor within the educational psychology department at National-Louis University. While his tenure with Fremont School District 79 lasted eight years, a large portion of it championing environmental citizenship, he recently moved to Alaska to accept a position with Anchorage School District. Though he has adopted a student leadership club that facilitates recycling initiatives with elementary school students. Green Club: A Reflection on Partnership
As I reflected upon my practice as a middle school green club sponsor, I realized the importance of partnership. Partnership emerged as a foundational component of green club programming. Partnerships share the responsibilities of home, school, and community settings. This takes on a holistic view in educating the child as well as bridging academic content-knowledge to other settings where learning becomes meaningful.
The self-generating aspect of green club programming was set in motion and service requests emerged. The club became a container for environmental dialogue and opportunities. Partnerships served several purposes. For one, partnering with different organizations as well as staff and community members broadened the reach of programming. Service-learning strives to create projects that fill a need within the community. Without partnership, service-learning would not be possible.
To reach the broadest possible audience and to respond to the needs experienced within the environment, I was always inclined to accept requests that, in turn, often drove programming. Establishing partnerships within the school community was one way to affect the cultivation of environmental citizenship to the farthest reach possible. Programming that extended beyond green club members reached audiences that would otherwise not be exposed to urban sustainability principles.
This is a story about the interconnections that exist within our communities. When we learn how to connect the dots we form meaningful learning opportunities for the communities we exist within. For instance, two years ago I worked with the Student Council sponsor, Mr. Snow, to adopt a comprehensive recycling programming. This was the first of many partnerships to come.
Soon there after, requests came from school staff, teachers, administrators, the PTO, and parents that centered on school greening initiatives. Because it was difficult to predict who may present an opportunity that is worth grasping onto, I was always open to opportunities that presented themselves.
At the most basic level, green club had established meaningful partnerships with other extra-curricular clubs. For instance, we partnered with Student Council and National Junior Honors Society (NJHS) for community service programming such as Adopt-A-Highway. Adopt-A-Highway was a natural fit because Student Council as well as NJHS requires community service hours. Typically, green club may have 10 students attend a regularly scheduled session; however, partnering with Student Council and NJHS may attract upward of 40 students.
These partnerships are important for several reasons. For one, Student Council and NJHS students were exposed to litter and recycling curriculum. Participants were also given green club literature and were encouraged to attend future events. In this respect, partnering with other clubs acted as a recruitment tool.
Teachers also enjoyed volunteering. And, green club students enjoyed seeing these teachers and students in an alternative setting. Seeing their teachers in a different context increased their overall engagement and enthusiasm. Yet, not only did I create partnerships with teachers and other clubs, I also encouraged parents and family members to participate in a variety of activities.
Green club had also partnered with the art club for our Social Stories Applied to Urban Sustainability activity. This was also a natural decision. For this activity, students created illustrations that accompanied stories that centered on urban sustainability. The utilization of art supplies as well as the expertise of our art teacher, Mrs. Miska, were added bonuses. Art Club students excelled with their artistic ability to draw quality illustrations that gave the storybook realistic depictions of the written narratives.
The extension of this activity was implemented within a Multi-Age Program (MAP) classroom comprised of first and second graders at Fremont Elementary School. Green club students read our stories to them.
This activity was possible due to the partnership created with their teacher, Mrs. Northup. My professional relationship with Mrs. Northup was established with my participation in our district-wide wellness committee, which she was a member of as well. Here, we find common ground in our aspirations to make Fremont a healthy community that promotes wellness. So, when I sent out a district-wide email explaining our recycling initiatives, I invited teachers to schedule a time for green club students to present to their classes. Inviting ourselves into their classrooms was literally a spur of the moment decision that took place within the last few moments before I clicked send. Yet, it paid off exponentially insomuch that Mrs. Northup invited us into her classroom to present as well as welcomed us back to read our stories to her students.
I was prompted to send that initial email to all staff within the district as a result of the Illinois Zero Waste Grant that Fremont School District 79 received last summer. Last year, Margaret Van Duch, who is our district’s communication coordinator, asked if I had any ideas for a grant she was writing. I suggested that we replicate the three-bin recycling station that we established within the middle school to our elementary and intermediate schools. The three-bin recycling station became the focal project within this grant.
Margaret has championed Green Club programming since our creation. For example, she continually issues press releases for our major events. We have received media attention from our local newspapers for our Adopt-A-Highway roadside cleanups as well as our Red Ribbon Plant. This is important for so many reasons. For one, Green Club participants’ engagement increases during events when there is media attention. Students eventually recognize this pattern in their own right. They realize that when we have an Adopt-A-Highway event the local paper will cover it. Students have stated in casual conversation that they become excited when there is a photographer capturing them picking up litter and asking them questions about their positions on civic responsibility. By establishing a strong partnership with Margaret we had popularized Green Club events by attracting media attention as well as more students who learn ways to conduct themselves as an environmental citizen. Reaching a larger audience spreads Green Club’s message of environmental citizenship.
I submitted a narrative describing our event to Margaret that was later printed in the local newspaper with a photo of two students picking up litter and placing it within a garbage bag that was held by our assistant principal. Yet, not only does the media coverage increase participants’ engagement and level of interest, it also validates their efforts. Students elicited the importance of this validation during discussion group sessions. Validation increased the likelihood that they would engage themselves as an environmental citizen. The fact that an Adopt-A-Highway roadside cleanup is covered by a local newspaper meant that our message was extended to the readership of the paper that often extends to several neighboring suburbs.
It was also Margaret’s suggestion that we present to the Fremont School District Board of Education. Prior to this presentation, I met with several students on three occasions during their lunch and recess periods to prepare. My students seemed a bit nervous, but understood that it was an honor to present to their school district’s board of education. Students brainstormed and decided to adapt our MAP recycling presentation for the board of education. We chose photos to include in our PowerPoint and wrote scripted narratives to read. My students were dedicated and determined to do a wonderful job, which they did. Our Assistant Superintendent wrote me the following note: “GREAT presentation last night.”
Afterwards, as I guided students to the main office to catch their rides home, Mrs. Foreman, who is our school’s PTO president offered us free advertising space to promote our three-bin recycling station in the Wildcat Crier, which is our district’s monthly newsletter. This offer drove the following Green Club activity where students drafted an advertisement for this publication. And, our advertisement was submitted and published in the following month’s newsletter.
This was not the first time a community member’s suggestion drove an activity. Mrs. Stanley is a parent who has spearheaded the Fremont Outdoor Learning Environment (FOLE). She is also a member of our district’s No Child Left Inside Committee and the Fremont Township Water Committee. Last year, we partnered Mrs. Stanley to educate students about the potential water crisis Lake County will experience in the next several decades.
I have also supported her outdoor education initiatives by serving on FOLE committee. Mrs. Stanley asked that green club to paint benches for FOLE use. I gladly accepted her offer and turned her request into a service-learning project. Here, students were educated about the importance of protecting outdoor spaces.
Partnerships often provided learning opportunities that would otherwise not be met by traditional educational programming. Through partnership activities, civic responsibility was prompted as students developed meaningful connections to the community they live within.
The environmental initiatives facilitated through partnership affected students cultivation of environmental citizenship by establishing the type of environmental education that promoted sustainability. These learning opportunities often drove green club programming. Students engaged themselves in a mode of environmental education that directed them towards environmental citizenship by engaging in stewardship and public service that promoted such sustainable behaviors as recycling, litter prevention, and the beautification of nature. Partnering with members of the school community allowed green club participants to engage in activities they otherwise would not be exposed to. Further, creating partnerships allowed green club to serve the community we exist within.
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