BRATTLEBORO—During the week of April 22 — Earth Day — Kristen Benoit, program coordinator with the Windham County Solid Waste Management District (WSWMD), plans to drive to three schools in her company’s pickup truck.
Her cargo will be specially made trophies going to the top three winners in the WSWMD’s first-ever School Environmental Excellence Award competition.
All public and private elementary, middle, and high schools in the 20 Windham County towns in the WSWMD service area were invited to compete for the three awards, Benoit said.
“I don’t think kids get recognized enough for all the hard work they do” with recycling and composting in their schools, Benoit told The Commons. “And they’re taking it home,” she added.
Benoit told the story of a parent who broke down and bought a compost bin because her son kept pestering her about why they don’t compost at home like they do at school.
Although Benoit expressed pride in how well Windham County schoolchildren are integrating recycling and composting into their lunchroom and classroom routines, she said the award will go to three schools, not three individuals.
“It’s not just one person doing this, it’s the entire community... teaching students to reduce waste,” Benoit said.
In some of these schools, “it’s the teachers who are collecting the recycling” in their classrooms, she said. Maintenance staff and administrators also pitch in to make sure students and staff recycle and compost.
Each participating school must complete the scorecard Benoit sent and return it to her by April 8. She even included a self-addressed, stamped envelope so the school does not have to pay for postage.
“I tried to make it was easy as possible — the schools do enough as it is,” she said.
Benoit developed the scorecard with the assistance of Food Connects’ Local Food Education Coordinator Kira Sawyer-Hartigan, using information from the state.
“The scorecard reinforces Act 148,” the state’s mandatory recycling and composting legislation, she said.
Schools will be graded on a point system rating how well they dispose of waste materials in offices, hallways, classrooms, lounges, athletic facilities, and lunchrooms.
“We wanted to give every school a chance to do well,” Benoit said, noting that there are plenty of categories providing points-earning opportunities — because not all schools have the same programs.
A few schools, she said, don’t offer composting, for example, but otherwise engage in good environmental efforts.
Some of the practices and policies the scorecard references are: Is there a plan to limit hazardous waste? Is there a sort station with clearly labeled recycling, compost, and trash containers? Are students encouraged to use both sides of paper?
The highest possible score a school can earn is 50 points, and any school earning 35 points or more earns the category acclamation, “Super sustainable school! Keep it up!” according to the scorecard. Schools earning the fewest points — zero to 12 — get the following comments: “Limited sustainability effort demonstrated. It’s time to GO GREEN!"
But a school that needs to “go green” is not left to its own devices.
Although the competition is structured toward winning an award, Benoit said the goal is really to assess how well a school is implementing sustainability practices. She was insistent that she is there to help, and if a school asks, she will come to the school to set up programs and teach students and staff how to use them.
“I am here whenever they need me,” she said.