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The Green Steps School Program: Equipping Tomorrow’s “Green” Leaders

American activist for children's rights and president and founder of the Children's Defense Fund Marian Wright Edelman once said: “Education is for improving the lives of others and for leaving your community and world better than you found it.” This profoundly intuitive statement perfectly sums up the mission and vision of the Green Steps School Program.

    Introducing and formulating sustainability and hands-on learning activities into educational programs that ignite a passion for all things “green” through teaching, learning and equipping is what Green Steps is all about. By definition, Green Steps is an environmental education program established in 2003 by Keep the Midlands Beautiful, Sonoco Recycling, and the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control’s Office of Solid Waste Reduction and Recycling. And the results speak for themselves.

    Since its inception, the program has been very successful in enlisting dozens of schools in the greater Midlands and throughout the state. Businesses, sustainable organizations, and educational learning centers partner together to create unique, fun learning projects and activities specifically designed to cultivate an early appreciation of and commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship. In addition, the program helps to equip educators with vital tools, innovative resources and information to help enrich the classroom learning experience.

    For example, many local Green Steps students are making “plarn” (plastic bag yarn) to pass on to crochet teams to make bedrolls for Columbia’s chronically homeless population. In addition, some teachers and students are learning to make pizza box looms to weave plarn projects that can be used at school. A few examples of what they have created include: sit-upons for outdoor learning, knee pads for school gardening, tote bags for student art portfolios, and preschool nap pads. Recently, Dutch Fork Elementary School, which has been making plarn for two years, hosted a teacher workshop to make looms. The sixth-grade STEM teams of Summit Parkway Middle School are competing to make an improved version of a pizza box loom recently demonstrated by Education Director for Sonoco Recycling Jane Hiller. “I can’t wait to see what we can learn from these budding engineers!” enthuses Hiller.

    Through the Green Steps School Program, Midlands area students are becoming change agents of hope for a brighter, sustainable future through hands-on projects, with very tangible results! For example, the students of Harmony School are learning to make their own nontoxic citrus classroom cleaner by soaking orange peels in white vinegar; students from Green Charter School of the Midlands are creating literal treasures from trash; students of Dent Middle School are creating rain gardens; and A.C. Moore Elementary School students are cleaning storm drains.

    The Green Steps School Program, along with other noteworthy sustainability organizations, often recognize the great work and invaluable contributions made by students and teachers through awards, special recognitions and project spotlights. For example, Dutch Fork Elementary Academy of Environmental Sciences was selected as the 2018 S.C. School for Outstanding Performance by Keep South Carolina Beautiful, and Irmo High School science teacher Peter Lauzon was recognized as the 2018 S.C. Secondary Conservation Teacher of the Year by the S.C. Association of Conservation Districts.

    This month, we celebrate Earth Day on Monday, April 22, and with the Earth’s natural resources in steady decline, it is vital that the next generation of “green thinkers” and leaders learn and embrace the concepts of sustainability, conservation and preservation today. And the Green Steps School Program is a great way to support this effort. Schools interested in participating in the program only need to follow a simple enrollment process, which can be found by visiting the program’s website.

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