Tried and true success stories of healthy and sustainable cleaning initiatives

At Virginia Beach City Public Schools, in Virginia, students have the opportunity to study sustainable initiatives firsthand. With the help of school custodians, children are involved in a gardening project where they can literally get their hands dirty recycling food waste and growing their own vegetables.

“Kids at our gifted center wanted to try composting, so we found a company to take food waste from our kitchen and compost it for use in our gardens,” says Larry Ames, director of custodial services.

The project is being tested at two schools with plans to roll it out to all 96 buildings.  Custodians play an active role in collecting and transferring food waste, as well as making sure students use the correct recycling bins. In the summer, when students are on vacation, custodians harvest the vegetables and take them home.

“Custodial workers are mentors,” says Ames. “They talk to the kids and the kids talk to them. We encourage custodians to look for kids that are loners and communicate with them, because those are the kids we want to reach out and touch. We know we have a clean, healthy, sanitary school, but we want to make it more inviting for students.”

According to Ames, this approach supports the Virginia Beach City Public Schools’ philosophy: To incorporate students into as much of the process as possible so that they’re invested in the program. And the district’s efforts are paying off. When teachers talk about recycling, for example, the children can go out to the garden and see the produce they’ve grown from recycled material. During the school year, they can pick the fruits and vegetables and sample what they’ve grown.

“We’re trying to teach kids that green is the way to go, and we need to recycle everything we use in the building,” says Ames, “We then incorporate that into instructional lessons that they can use in their lifelong learning.”

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