Montera Middle School, nestled at the base of the Oakland hills, provides a beautiful environment for students to learn about nature and its systems. A team of electives teachers have united around a theme of waste reduction to develop a coordinated interdisciplinary experience for students. Students in Leadership classes are actively involved in finding and solving problems with the waste stream on campus while the wood shop plans to build planter boxes, recycling stations, and other products from reclaimed materials. Together these teachers and student leaders aim to transform campus culture in support of more sustainable systems.
A basic principle of reducing food waste is to make food so good that people want to eat it all up.
At Montera Middle School, Mr. Mike strives to do just that. In October, Mike was recognized by Oakland Unified School District's Nutrition Services Department for his efforts to run a fantastic cafeteria.
Joyce Peters a Registered Dietician with Oakland Unified School District's Nutrition Services department heaped additional praise on Mr. Mike: "Mike rarely takes off from work because Montera kids always come first. Mr. Mike has a great rapport with the students he feeds and those working in their first jobs at his kitchen. He is very proud of his cooking as a former restaurant chef specializing in Louisiana cuisine. Despite how school meal regulations, budget, facilities and staffing may hamper his creativity, he really tries hard to please the students."
Students at Montera Middle School recently examined their cafeteria waste to measure the effectiveness of the school's recenlty implemented food scrap diversion program. First students examined the material in the green waste bins to make sure that students were properly sorting their green waste, then they examined the trash cans to learn what more needs to be done to approach zero waste at lunch.
Students were happy to discover that the food scrap program is diverting a majority of the waste away from landfill with nearly twice as much material headed to composting vs the landfill. Furthermore, they were proud to find that the sorting stations are effectively separating compostable waste with relatively little contamination of non-compostable materials. Students did observe that there were still compostable materials in the garbage stream and they hope to continue peer education to further reduce the amount of material sent to landfill.
The school's head custodian also reports a high degree of satisfaction with the program as the additional bins have eliminated the need to constantly empty and refill garbage cans during the school's two lunch periods.
The leadership students plan to use the data in efforts to improve the program and to help train other students to act as station monitors during lunch.
To see the full reports, click the links below:
On March 17th, St Patricks Day, Montera MS became the first public middle school in Oakland to roll out a brand new food scrap recycling program in their cafeteria. The program was the result of months of planning; hard data from three EarthTeam waste audits; a solid collaboration between Waste Management, Jeannie Kohl's Leadership class, SLWRP teachers, parents, and custodial staff; and hard work involving much trash sorting, student-made presentations, and glitter paint (for posters). One week into the new program, EarthTeam's Waste Action Team decided to check-in on the system and sleuth around, armed with a camera, a list of interview questions, and their own curiosity.
What follows is the transcription of several conversations the Waste Action Team had with unsuspecting lunch eaters and enthusiastic bin monitors.
Autumn - lunch eater, 7th grader
EarthTeam: "Hello! Sorry to interrupt your lunch, but I was hoping to ask you a couple of quick questions about Montera's new food scrap recycling program."
Autumn: "Food scrap what?"
ET: "Food scrap recycling! The new green bins."
Autumn: "Oh. I thought those were for trash?"
ET: "Nope - just food scraps! To turn 'em into compost."
Autumn: "Oh cool. I didn't know we had that here."
ET: "It just started, like a week ago. Do you have a green bin at home?"
ET: "So you know all about compost?"
Autumn: "Yeah. The food is turned into dirt."
ET: "Awesome! Well, if you didn't realize there was food scrap recycling here - did you notice the bin monitors?"
Autumn: "Kinda. Sometimes the bins have monitors, sometimes they don't."
ET: "Would you ever volunteer to be one of those bin monitors?"
Autumn: "Yeah, totally!" (smiles)
ET: "Great! We're trying to help set up an official monitor schedule, so stay tuned."
Max - bin monitor, 8th grader
ET: "Hi there, do you mind if I ask you a couple of quick questions about your monitoring?"
Max: "Sure?" (looks around)
ET: "Thanks! Have you been volunteering all week?"
Max: "No, this is my first time."
ET: "Who trained you?"
Max: "A friend from Leadership."
ET: "Do you have a green bin at home?"
Max: "Yeah, so I also sort there."
ET: "May I ask why you're doing this - for community service?"
Max: "Nah, out of the kindness of my heart!" (laughs)
ET: "Sweet! Well thank you for doing this, I know that Leadership needs all the help it can get! What do you think of the advertising for the new system thus far?"
Max: "Well, people still aren't getting the message. Not everyone saw the PowerPoint Leadership did - maybe they could do a whole assembly? That way everyone would definitely know about this."
ET: "Great idea! It's also just been a week, so sometimes things take awhile to settle in. If you were to assign a grade for the monitors, and a grade for Montera students, how would you say everyone's doing?"
Max: " 'A' for monitors, maybe a 'B' for students."
Group of 3 girls - lunch eaters, 8th graders
ET: "Hello, hello! May I sit with all of you, and ask a few quick questions about Montera's new food scrap recycling system?"
ET: "So, who here knew that Montera had a new food scrap recycling program?"
Girls #1 and #2: "We saw Leadership's PowerPoint."
Girl #3: "We have a food scrap system?"
ET: "Yeah, those are the new green bins, with the new monitors."
Girl #3: "Oh, that!"
Girl #1: "Yeah, the monitors are good, because I was confused at first about where to put things."
ET: "Do you have green bins at home?"
Girl #2: "I think most people here do."
ET: "Ah. Well, do you think any of you would be willing to volunteer, and be monitors?"
Girl #1:"I'd be embarrassed." (shakes head)
Girl #2: "The monitors are doing a really good job though!"
Group of 4 guys - lunch eaters, 8th graders
ET: "Hello! I'm hoping I can quickly ask you some super quick questions about Montera's brand new food scrap recycling program."
ET: "Excellent! For starters: did all of you know that Montera has a new food scrap system?"
Group: "Yes!" (students are either in Leadership, or saw the PowerPoint).
ET: "Have any of you been monitors yet?"
Guy #1: "Yeah, I did. It was fun - I'd do it again."
ET: "Great! Well, what about the rest of you - would you volunteer?"
Guy #2: "I would. It's my last year here, so it'd be nice to do some good before I graduate."
ET: "Nice. Well, how do you think things are going?"
Guy #3: "It's going well... it'd be good to improve awareness, if not everyone knows what's going on."
Guy #2: "Yeah, and people don't always pay attention to the monitors."
ET: "Hmmm, good to know. Well, my last question for you: do you have green bins at home?"
From all of these conversations, and a couple more informal ones, the Waste Action Team has concluded that Montera is doing an excellent job with its brand new system! Starting food scrap recycling at a big middle school, and well into the new year, is no easy feat, but everyone we spoke to was overwhelmingly positive - whether about Leadership's PowerPoint presentations, the monitors, the supportive custodial staff, or the the overall idea of this new program (if the student wasn't fully aware it was already in place). Many students also appeared to be interested in serving a shift as a monitor themselves - which is wonderful news, considering Montera's Green Team will be sitting down with the Waste Action Team next week to figure out how to set up a fully sustainable monitoring system. As of now, Leadership students, and other students involved in the Service-Learning Waste Reduction Project (SLWRP), have been doing the lion's share of all of the volunteer shifts. Ideally, this responsibility would be shifted away from their shoulders, and the shoulders of Green Team teachers, to the rest of the school as well. Collective work is sustainable work, and EarthTeam is eager to continue supporting Montera however it can. For now, though, FANTASTIC work! Montera is truly a model for other middle schools trying to "go green" :)
On Thursday, March 17th, Montera Middle School launched its food scrap diversion program. "We're trying to keep it green on St. Patrick's Day," explained leadership teacher Jeannie Kohl.
The Montera system features 4 waste stations in the cafeteria hosted by student monitors who help their peers sort their lunch waste into recyclables, compostables, and materials destined for the landfill.
A waste audit of the cafeteria garbage earlier this year inspired students to take action. "We found out that over 70% of what we were throwing in the trash could have been composted or recycled," explained one 7th grader.
Organizing food scrap diversion on the Montera campus provided many challenges. The school hosts nearly 1000 6th, 7th and 8th graders who eat lunch in two shifts. The campus is hilly, and the dumpsters are located far from the cafeteria. The campus also recently underwent a facilities modernization process that made bulldozers and construction crews a regular feature of the campus.
Undaunted by these challenges and buoyed by a strong degree of leadership, collaboration and enthusiasm, the Montera community worked together to design and implement the program.
"We worked with parent volunteers who had connections with Waste Management to help get the commercial compost pick ups in place," explained Ms. Kohl. "They also helped us get the bins in the cafeteria."
EarthTeam and the Alameda County Office of Education connected Montera to education and outreach materials used by other schools and helped provide feedback throughout the planning process.
Students at Montera designed outreach materials unique to their campus including posters, bulletin announcements, and powerpoint presentations in science classrooms throughout campus.
"We worked really hard to get the word out," said one student monitor. "We still have a ways to go until everybody remembers to do the right thing every time, but so far, I'd say this is a huge success."
Mr. Broach, the lead custodian at Montera notes, "At first I was a bit skeptical as they were planning this, but the program has been fantastic. The student monitors are the key to the system. I'd estimate we've been able to cut the amount of waste going to the garbage by over 50%. The lunch room is cleaner at the end of the day, too."
Each waste station at Montera is staffed by a student volunteer who teaches other students where to appropriately dispose of their waste. "The biggest obstacle is that people are in a hurry, so we do spend some time sorting out their mistakes –like plastic wrappers in the food scrap bin," explained one station monitor. When asked "Why volunteer for this work?" a station monitor responded, "I love nature and want to continue being human. We have to treat nature with respect if we want to survive."
"This is completely consistent with our vision of creating a safe, orderly, caring and nurturing environment for our students," explains principal Russom Mesfun. "We want to lead on this issue. We want to be a role model and train other schools how to do this." Mr. Mesfun emphasized the important role of student voice and leadership.
He has established a standing bi-weekly meeting with student leaders to gather input on improving the campus climate, culture and educational programming at Montera. "These kids get it," he explained, "We all have to do a better job giving them chances to lead."
Montera has also implemented systems to help reduce waste before it starts, including a service cart where students can pick up condiments and utensils if needed. "A lot of what we eat is finger food, so we don't really need the spork," noted an 8th grader. "It would be great if we could get rid of the plastic wrap too so that people could just get the spork, or just get the napkin, but they say it is for sanitation."
The program still faces a few hurdles, but all participants are engaged in reflecting on the program and ways to improve it. Kitchen staff say that they cannot indefinitely supply rubber gloves to the student monitors, and custodial staff are concerned that they are using more garbage bags at lunch to accommodate both garbage cans and food scrap carts.
Student bin monitors are already planning to develop a way for more students outside of the leadership class to monitor the bins to help avoid bin monitor burnout. Leadership students have already mapped out the outdoor areas of the campus where students sometimes eat and hope to design an outdoor food scrap diversion program as well.
Based on Montera's success to date, these hurdles will be only small obstacles to the development of a sustainable, successful program.
The 31 students in Ms. Kohl's Leadership class braved heat and bees to audit garbage from the school cafeteria on Oct. 12th, 2010. Students discovered quite a bit of compostable material and uneaten food. Leadership students were excited about setting up a school garden, and composting on their school site. Late in the fall, Montera began work on a school wide, municipal compost program, and Leadership students will help to roll it out on March 17th. St. Patricks Day will be the start of Montera's 'How Green can you be?' campaign to start up school wide composting. Students and SLWRP teachers have been busy coordinating educational videos, lesson curriculum for students, and cafeteria monitors to insure that the program goes smoothly. Montera stands to see a big change in their waste audit data if they find success in their new program!
Next followed a second audit of Montera's waste stream, which concentrated on outdoor garbage around the cafeteria area on Nov. 18th, 2010. 33 students in Mr. Moravetz's Spanish class identified a considerable amount of partial and uneaten food. This food waste data is an excellent reminder of the need for a composting program. These students will use their communication skills to help spread the word and change student behaviors as they roll out their new food scrap recycling program on March 17.
Last but not least, the 24 students in Ms. Waldorf's Drama class audited cafeteria waste in preparation for making an educational video about the new food scrap recycling program at school.