PUTNEY—“This morning we have a special assembly,” Putney Central School Principal Herve Pelletier told the scores of children seated in the school’s cafeteria early last Thursday.
Although the students, joined by the school’s faculty and staff, were there to greet two special guests — Kristen Benoit, program coordinator for the Windham Solid Waste Management District (WSWMD), and Dan Toomey, the town’s representative to the group — it was really they who were lauded the morning of April 28.
Pelletier introduced Benoit. In her hand she held a shiny, star-filled trophy, which she presented to the Putney Central School and all who work and learn there for winning first place in the WSWMD’s first School Environmental Excellence competition [“WSWMD creates School Environmental Excellence Award,” Town & Village, April 6].
Benoit developed the competition because, she told The Commons, “I don’t think kids get recognized enough for all the hard work they do” with recycling and composting in their schools.
Along with Kira Sawyer Hartigan-Sawyer of Food Connects, Benoit developed a scorecard and sent it to each school in the WSWMD’s 20-town service area.
Representatives from each participating school graded themselves on their respective environmental sustainability practices. The top three winning schools would receive trophies, delivered personally by Benoit.
Putney Central School earned the most points of all schools. NewBrook Elementary School in Newfane came in second place, followed by Twin Valley High School in Whitingham.
“Your school really blew me away when I got your scorecard!” Benoit told the children and adults.
“Your community is doing an exceptional job” with recycling and composting, she said, and assured attendees that they “set an example for all of us with what we can do.”
“Now, take it to your community,” Benoit told the group.
Toomey said to those assembled, “the town of Putney and the state of Vermont are proud of you.”
“If you’ve been involved with recycling and composting, stand up,” Pelletier said, prompting most of the children in the room to get on their feet.
Then, as a final note to the assembly, Pelletier led the room in the “Putney PRIDE cheer.”
PRIDE is the school’s acronym for “Participation, Respect and Responsibility, Integrity and Independence, Dedication, and Effort and Excellence.”
Pelletier kicked it off: “When I say, ‘Putney,’ you say—”
“—PRIDE!” rang the echoes of about 170 screaming children.
It’s the school’s ethos
Although Pelletier said he was “very pleasantly surprised” by the honor, he noted that “we’d do this anyway, even without an award.”
“These are life skills we’re trying to promote” for all of the school’s children, in every grade, he said.
Pelletier noted recycling and composting are just one part of the school’s ethos: environmental awareness.
He mentioned the extensive network of nature trails in the school forest, the robust garden, and the young fruit trees planted next to it.
Pelletier said keeping the meals program in-house, rather than contracting with a food-service management company, has caused “a precipitous drop — by at least a third — in food waste.”
“But, if it happens” that the school gets an award, Pelletier said, he is happy, because he thinks “the kids have earned it.”
It’s not just the kids who deserve praise, he said.
Much of the school’s success with its environmental awareness programs is “because of [School Board Chair] Alice Laughlin,” he said, calling her “the glue that holds this all together.”
Pelletier characterized the entire School Board as supportive and hard-working, and he said they see the school as an integral part of, and reflection of, the entire community. He said the school building’s “energy retrofits are based on [the School Board’s] work.”
Faculty and staff were praised by Pelletier as instrumental to the school’s environmental success and subsequent award.
Third-grade teacher Jen O’Donnell and fifth-grade teacher Karen Saunders were “big cheerleaders,” Pelletier said, noting Saunders “was composting in her classroom before we were.”
Kitchen staff Nathan Drake and Kerri Harlow received special mention from Pelletier.
“It’s a challenge making sure the second-graders put their stuff in the right bins,” he said, noting the attention required to help kids get the food scraps — and not the silverware — into the compost bins.
Steve Hed, a former teacher and parent of two Putney Central School students, also earned thanks from Pelletier.
Hed, in his dual role as sustainability coordinator and coordinator for the Fresh Fruit and Vegetables program, is largely responsible for the school’s garden transitioning from what Pelletier called a “hobby garden” to a tiny working farm.
“Last year, we raised about 200 pounds of potatoes, baskets of brussels sprouts, and basil,” Pelletier said, noting the students made and froze pesto. This produce goes to the school cafeteria, so students and guests can eat what they grow.
Plans are in the works for the school to offer a summer program, run by Hed, where students can focus on the “high-yield growing season,” and learn to grow and process the fruits and vegetables, Pelletier said.
The school could not likely have won the WSWMD’s award without Steve Napoli, head of the school’s maintenance department, Pelletier said.
Napoli is in charge of making sure the school has the proper composting and recycling bins, and “other logistical stuff,” said Pelletier.
But Napoli played another critical role in the school’s getting the award.
“Steve filled out the scorecard,” the principal noted.