Sunset Park Elementary students have been learning about recycling and saving the environment — and those efforts have won the school a deep-water culture hydroponics STEM lab from Green Our Planet to continue their environmental efforts.
The Eco-Eagles Club is one of four winners the Orange County Public Schools district has named a Sustainability Champion.
The school will receive hydroponics STEM lab equipment in the fall that will be set up in an empty classroom, where teachers can take their students for lessons on indoor growing. Each grade level will be given three lesson plans.
Jacqueline Hool has led the Student Council since the school opened in 2007, and every year she gets the third- through fifth-grade students engaged in a project.
She explained in her OCPS application what they have done:
“We would organize service-learning projects and encourage school spirit regularly. While we've worked with Eco Sneakers to collect tennis shoes to recycle for playgrounds, it was not until 2017 did we begin ‘Recycling Fridays,’ where our Student Council members collected recycling from every office and classroom and took to the recycling dumpster. In addition, we created a garden here at the school.”
The school garden took a hit during COVID-19 when students and staff weren’t there to keep it weeded and watered.
“This was the year to bring it back,” Hool said. “I’m trying to get classrooms to come visit the garden in early morning and late afternoon to water. We have cherry tomatoes, we have zucchini, we have beans, and we have full-on flower beds to make it colorful.”
There are five garden beds plus two rain barrels.
Sunset Park won a $200 for its start-up efforts and is getting a picnic table as well as some gardening tools.
“It’s kind of an oasis for the kids to just be out there while it’s not too hot,” Hool said. “They can do a book read out there … or just be in the garden.”
In addition to the garden being a space for teaching moments and hands-on experience, the school is excited at the possibility of enjoying lunch, recess and outdoor classroom there.
Hool and media specialist Brittany Geib recently started the Eco-Eagles Club to continue with recycling, garden rehabilitation and other recycling projects they have planned.
Students have been learning which items are recyclable — plastic bottles and jugs, paper, cardboard and paperboard, metal food and beverage cans, and glass bottles and jars — and every Friday they take these items to the dumpster. The district’s Environmental Compliance & Sustainability department has provided recycling bins and posters for classrooms and hallways.
“Our kindergartners through second-graders are especially excited to be a part of the program, as this is all new to them,” Hool said in her application.
She is working on monthly recycling projects and fundraisers to encourage the school to participate. The first Eco Eagles project was a recycling drive for clothes and shoes. Funds from that fundraiser will be used to expand the garden.
Sunset Park also plans to seek other grant opportunities and is applying for the Green Schools Recognition Program, which can earn the school thousands of dollars.