Four figures bolt down a hallway, quickly turn the corner, and cram roughly twenty cardboard boxes into the recycling bin. To outside figures, it’s a strange occurrence, but to the Green Team, it’s a typical Wednesday afternoon as part of their new initiative ensuring that classroom recycling bins are emptied into the blue bins outside.
Atholton’s Green Team was founded in 2010 to help reduce the school’s environmental impact and to open up opportunities for the student community to get involved with their surroundings. The group’s various activities are targeted towards reducing waste, creating more green space, and contributing to the community. Renewing Atholton’s status as a Green School, which was first achieved in 2018, is also one of the Green Team’s primary objectives.
The Green School status recognizes schools in Maryland that include environmental education in their curriculum, address community environmental issues, and more. The process of recertification is a rigorous one that involves filling out an application approved by the Maryland Association for Environmental and and Outdoor Education (MAEOE). This demanding task further includes working towards education, advocacy, and establishing a variety of physical initiatives in the school building.
One of the Green Team’s responsibilities is to volunteer at local conservation sites, including the Robinson Nature Center and, more recently, the Community Ecology Institute (CEI). Ms. Schwab, the Green Team sponsor, elaborated on the value of volunteering with these organizations. “Students need to be able to see how a small effort from them can directly benefit others. It also gives them a chance to get outside and learn something new. Each time we volunteer, I learn something new and really enjoy the opportunity to get outside.”
Beyond Green Team’s commitment to CEI and Robinson, they also enact simple, environmentally-friendly changes around Atholton. For instance, members are currently working on emptying classroom recycling bins, maintaining the native plant garden in the courtyard, working on picking up litter on campus grounds, and even recycling plastic bags into sleeping mats to donate to the homeless. The group also cleaned up the football field before and after this year’s Homecoming.
As for future activities, the Green Team plans on reinstalling compost bins throughout the cafeteria, painting a mural alongside the courtyard, starting small fundraisers based on environmental principles, and reaching out to local elementary and middle schools to expand environmental education in Howard County.
Another impressive project carried out by the Green Team is their native plant garden located in the Atholton courtyard. Created from a patch of grass five years ago, the group has maintained it ever since, cultivating it into a flourishing garden of native flowers that were donated by the community. Ms. Schwab wrote, “The big thing is maintenance and we take care of that as a group. All of the weed and yard waste then goes home with me and gets recycled through the county’s compost program. The garden was even used by my AP Bio class this year for a biodiversity lab.”
Improving the environmental footprint of a school with close to 1,500 students, while juggling a boatload of responsibilities is a formidable task to go at alone. Luckily, the Green Team keeps its door open to all students who are willing to participate. In the words of Ms. Schwab, “We are happy to work with people and have them come by as many times as they can, whenever they can.” In exchange for the volunteers’ time, Ms. Schwab also signs off on service hours for Atholton’s National Honor Society or for graduation requirements.
For many Green Team has provided them with a unique and rewarding experience or as Dustin Flaker, a sophomore, phrased it, “Green Team’s been a good way to get some service hours, help the community, and just have a good time. I would definitely recommend joining if you’re looking for something to do after school and just want to help the environment.”
The Green Team is still on the lookout for avid new members to support their cause. As stated by Ms. Schwab “all of the team’s numerous initiatives are open to anyone who is willing to learn and would like to try. People are welcome to come by and ask what the next event may be that would involve service hours.”
Getting involved with the Green Team is a rewarding way to give back to the community and learn more about the outdoor world. As society starts shaking off the cobwebs from COVID-19 and quarantine, it’s important to get outside for a breath of fresh air and a hopeful ray of sunshine. Ms. Schwab also believes in the importance of reconnecting with the outdoors. “If being a part of our club gets someone to appreciate the outdoors and learn how to work to preserve that in a productive way, I am happy with that.”