The greening of Palo Alto schools

Parents, teachers and kids boost bicycling rates and 'zero waste' lunch packing

Palo Alto schools -- often led by parent volunteers -- have made systematic efforts to save energy and reduce waste over the years. Initiatives range from "zero waste" lunches to promotion of bicycling to a new program aimed at slashing schools' utility bills. As schools this week celebrate human-powered transportation through "Walk & Roll Week," the Palo Alto Weekly took a broader look at the greening of local schools.

Behind many of the initiatives is Palo Alto mediator Walter Hays, grandson of the Walter Hays for whom the elementary school is named and a grandfather himself. The "Sustainable Schools Committee" that Hays has led since 2003 has become a hub for individual school "Green Teams" comprised of volunteer parents, teachers and students at Palo Alto's 17 campuses.

As kids absorb environmental practices such as composting at school, they often take the knowledge home.

"Sometimes the kids are really the key in helping the parents learn new habits," said Federica Armstrong, a parent and volunteer at Walter Hays Elementary School.

Related stories:

New ways of doing school lunch

'Walking and rolling' to school

Prowling teacher aims to save big money for schools

Chris Kenrick

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 7, 2011 at 10:57 am

One area which is lacking is responsibilty for "lost and found". As an elementary parent, I spent many years looking after the lost and found in our school.

I sorted the clothes, lunchboxes, etc. to make it easy for those looking to find their belongings. Any item that had a name I returned to the owner's classroom, or called the home if a phone number was on the item, to tell the family they had an item in the lost and found cart.

What I discovered to my great surprise was that most of the un-named items were never claimed. Expensive brand new jackets or sweaters, lunch boxes, backpacks or sports equipment, were left unclaimed for months.

Many times I would take the cart around the tables at lunch time or stand at the entrance asking parents to look in the cart "just in case", but most said that they hadn't lost anything and wouldn't even check. Some I pursuaded to check often found something they didn't realise they had lost!

As green as it is to have reusable lunchboxes and to recycle, it is also worth remembering to label everything your child takes to school and can be separated from, and also to regularly check the lost and found to make sure that the sweater that was claimed to have been left at Grandma's house, or isn't needed now the season has changed, hasn't been left with the lost and found.

Most unclaimed clothing items are donated, but lunchboxes, backpacks and other items are just put in the trash when the cart gets too full or at the end of the school year.

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Posted by Chris Zaharias
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 8, 2011 at 8:35 am

Palo Altans have among California's largest carbon footprints and refuse production rates, due, of course, to our residents' overall affluence & material lifestyle (me included). When you see 2500-5000ft2 homes, pools, suburbans and de rigeur vacation homes, it really makes a mockery of this green initiative.

This exercise is the modern day equivalent of medieval church indulgences; just as the church sold official pardons from future sins to those fearing the wrath of God, parents submit to the light indoctrination of their children into what I'll call eco-guilt, and in so doing feel less bad about their utterly non-green lifestyles. Biking to school is not a moral issue - it's just the way kids living in a warm climate should get to school. Recycling? Drink water & read the paper online - problem solved.

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Posted by finders keepers
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 8, 2011 at 10:37 am

You should see what gets left at the swimming pools and soccer fields!
I have called if there is a phone number. If there is not, I hang it on the fence or a bench. I did Lost and Found at our neighborhood pool a few years back and was amazed at what we donated to Goodwill at the end of every season. I have found a pair of brand new child's Birkenstock sandals, new jackets, sweats, etc. Amazing.

On another note, same topic, I have to laugh at the "green" efforts when the infrastructure is aging, old boilers, radiant heat, single pane glass from an era when energy was cheap and seemed endless.
The Cubberley plant is a great example. Hope the neighborhood schools are faring better.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 9, 2011 at 11:30 pm

Finders Keepers

I agree with you, it seems that in Palo Alto it is a case of easy come, easy go. We do need to teach our youth to take better care of their property but many families don't seem to care.

What point is there in an expensive lunchbox if it gets lost. At least baggies can be thrown away without being left smelling up the lost and found as they turn green with the food residue inside.

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Posted by John
a resident of Stanford
on Oct 10, 2011 at 10:44 am

What about the PA teacher's strike - when will that happen?

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