TREE starts at the roots



When I spoke with Sue Brown, director of Teaching Responsible Earth Education, for this week’s cover story, we reached this point in the conversation that didn’t make it in print:

The other piece that’s kind of unsaid in all of this is community. I think New Orleans epitomizes that. Whether it’s a neighborhood, school, a church — we’re our community. How powerful that is for children and adults to live in. So what we’ve tried to create always is that commonality at the outdoor classroom no matter where we are. We’re all learners and we’re all working at this together. We’re all working together and care about each other, and I think the kids sense that from the moment they come. I think that community is an important piece that’s hard to define, but it’s that pervading force we need.

Though so much depends on that communal feeling as part of the program, it had more weight than my word count would allow. When I had a chance to visit the Earthkeepers program for a day, I was invited to participate in all the activities, whether it was signing, dancing, sitting in a “magic space” or exploring a “speck trail.” I even got a nametag, a satchel and an activity book (in which I correctly identified a soil speck’s life cycle. I earned a leaf stamp). Days before, when I spoke with Sue Brown, I told her I was hoping to just be a fly on the wall. I thought she was joking when she said, “No, everyone participates.” She laughed. So did I. A few days later I was singing and dancing with a group of fourth graders.


While the group broke for a lunch break, Earthkeepers coordinator Debi Theobald (“Redwood”) used that time to give a lesson in recycling. Redwood used the most intimate form of community, the dinner table, to share that information, something the students could share when they got home at their own dinner tables. Here’s a snippet of her recycling lesson geared for fourth graders:


Ever been to the superdome? That’s a really big building with a lot of trash. Think about two of those filled with trash every single day.


We’re gonna talk about the things we do out here to make the garbage can our last resort.


The three words we try to celebrate the most are reduce, reuse and recycle. We set up an assembly line here to figure out the ways we can get rid of things before we throw ’em in the trashcan. The first thing you can do is take stuff home with you. That’s reusing. If you decide you’re not going to do that, you have many alternatives before the trash. This bowl is the sharing bowl. Let’s say there’s something in your lunch that you decided you don’t really want to eat. You haven’t taken a bite out of it, nor have you opened it, but you want the opportunity to share it with somebody. Drop it in here, it’s a sharing bowl.


Let’s say you have some scraps of things than can decompose. Things that decompose go back into the soil and turn back into vitamins and nutrients to make things grow. That’s what these are for. What we put in our compost buckets are orange peels or stems from strawberries, crackers, chips, bread, nuts, seeds.


Let’s say you have something you’re drinking and you decide you don’t want to keep it. You can pour your excess liquids in these containers.


Let’s talk about how you can recycle something. We have a place for aluminum and metals, a place for plastic and a place for paper.


What we’re trying to do is reduce the amount of trash we make.

Add a comment