Eco-Cycle’s Green Star Program began in spring 2005, empowering students to take ownership of their school environment to reduce waste, increase composting and recycling and consider individual impact on the environment.
Although the program is in several schools across the district, the program is solidly in place throughout the Silver Creek Feeder Schools — Eagle Crest Elementary, Blue Mountain Elementary, Longmont Estates Elementary and Altona Middle School. More than a dozen St. Vrain Valley School District, or SVVSD, schools participate in the Green Star program, including Hygiene, Lyons, Columbine, Red Hawk, Central and Niwot elementary schools, Coal Ridge Middle School, Lyons Middle Senior High School and Niwot High School.
“This is absolutely not mandatory for our district, but it’s a great incentive for our kids,” said Kelly Kinsman, environmental, health and safety manager for SVVSD.
Finnestead said the students approached Silver Creek leadership to discuss composting and waste reduction at the high school. The efforts were a few years in the making, led by students who are also involved in Silver Creek’s Environmental Club. Finnestead and the team at Silver Creek reached out to Eco-Cycle during the pandemic and spent the last year bringing the student initiative to fruition.
Students met with SVVSD operations staff and representatives from Eco-Cycle to learn more about how the program would work in the high school. Finnestead was hopeful that with how digitally networked and engaged the students were, sharing the Green Star experience through social media would inspire students from other schools to take the initiative as well.
“We have the benefit of having a great operations department that engaged in the conversation with kids to take a look at bringing composting to Silver Creek High School,” said Erick Finnestead, principal at Silver Creek.
The Green Star Program runs through the entire school, from classroom waste to the lunch room. Scaling up from elementary and middle schools to the high school level is complex, according to Kinsman, and the student initiative was a driving factor. Students have created videos to demonstrate the positive impacts of the program, as well as signage and logos.
“(The students are) excited and very grateful to have this as a part of their school,” Kinsman said. “It was a great demonstration not only of leadership but creativity, keeping the program interesting for their peers.”
Having students so enthusiastically take the reins on the program at Silver Creek inspires the district to provide more opportunities like the Green Star program at more schools, Kinsman said. Grant opportunities from Boulder County supplement the composting program with food rescue stations, allowing students to donate unopened food items to combat food insecurity while further reducing landfill waste, she explained.
From a waste reduction standpoint, the Green Star schools are sending less waste to landfills and providing more opportunities to compost and recycle, Kinsman explained, adding that she could see the difference from the program already, reducing the number of times trash needs to be hauled away. Though Kinsman didn’t have exact metrics on frequency, she said the program operating throughout the whole Silver Creek feeder program meant a significant reduction in trucks picking up trash at each of the five schools.
Kinsman was impressed with how students at Silver Creek were managing the program on their own, once the operational logistics were settled. Though it has involved increased logistics on the operations side, the work is worth it to see students take stewardship of their community, she added.
“I think where we’re all coming from is that it’s the right thing to do for your community, this country and the world,” Finnestead said. “Kids taking part in this process during their K-12 experience allows them to engage beyond K-12 and become leaders.”
The student leadership aspect is one of the things Finnestead and Kinsman both admired about the Green Star program as it continues to grow within SVVSD. Empowering students to develop their own voice and feel valued as teenagers when they make positive change in their community is a driving factor, Finnestead said.
“With the Green Star initiative, it shows that kids can make positive change and impact positive events in their community and they take great pride in that,” Finnestead. “That’s ultimately the benefit of this. Maybe they’ll bring it to their college campus or a community they are a part of in the future, because they’ve been able to bring it to Silver Creek.”