The school’s green push has been led by Jenny McLane, the PTA’s Environmental Chair; Melissa Malone, Willis Lane Outdoor Learning Facility Chair; and Salena Morphew, Compost Chair. Photos courtesy of Salena Morphew.
Dec. 7, 2015
Willis Lane Elementary in Keller has secured its green bragging rights. For four consecutive years, the Keller ISD school has earned the Green Ribbon School title, a national reward and recognition program for K-12 students.
This year, 130 schools in North Texas were honored as Green Ribbon Schools by the Austin-based recognition program. However, the Keller school was one of only five schools in the area to receive the award for the fourth consecutive year. Others were Arthur Kramer Elementary and Temple Emanu-el in Dallas, Northstar School in Arlington and Wyatt Elementary in Plano.
To receive this eco-friendly designation, the campus had to fulfill at least one activity in four categories – Health and Fitness, Natural Classrooms, Eco-friendly Campus and Nature Adventure.
Willis Lane’s green initiatives include launching a composting program, installing a Texas native learning garden and developing a robust recycling program that earns money for the school. They’ve also created a dedicated Green Team that has worked on variety of projects including letter writing campaigns, tree plantings and an Idle Free initiative.
The school’s green push has primarily been a collaboration between Jenny McLane, the PTA’s Environmental Chair; Melissa Malone, Willis Lane Outdoor Learning Facility Chair; and Salena Morphew, Compost Chair; with support of the school’s principal Cheryl Hudson, staff and students.
Malone said she started the first green program working with Terracycle to increase recycling and reduce waste at school.
“When my daughter first started school at Willis Lane six years ago, there was a one-stream recycling program in place, but the environmental chair position had sat empty for a few years,” said Malone. “Having worked in environmental education, I felt passionate about filling that role and was excited about the potential for improvement and growth. I started small the first year by adding two recycling programs through Terracycle and continued to grow our green initiatives since then along with the support of a green-minded principal and the help of dedicated parent volunteers.”
Malone said the Super Recycling Program offers students a way to recycle items beyond paper, plastic bottles, aluminum cans and glass.
“Most of our super recycling is sent to Terracycle, a company that specializes in re-purposing hard-to-recycle waste, such as drink pouches, granola bar wrappers, #6 plastic cups, snack pouches, water filters, beauty supply containers and oral care products,” Malone said. “We earn money by shipping these materials to Terracycle, which we use to reinvest in our green initiatives.”
Morphew said when the composting program began last year, students collected their fresh food scraps at the end of their lunch and the kitchen saved prep scraps. Now there has been 4,769 pounds of food scraps collected and currently being used for composting on site and amending the garden soil.
“The composting program began with two goals to increase students' awareness about where food goes when they throw it away and use that as a learning tool to discuss life cycles and decomposition as well as to create a way for our school to amend the heavy clay soil in our garden,” said Morphew.
The school’s garden, better known as the Willis Outdoor Learning Facility or WOLF, is maintained by the school’s PTA along with student and parent volunteers. It was initially developed by two former teachers at Willis Lane, Emilee Crow and Morris Whitener, to showcase Texas' natural diversity.
“The Texas-shaped garden and was designed to scale, with one inch equal to one square mile of Texas, and features plants that are native to each eco-region,” said Environmental Chair McLane. “The garden gives teachers an opportunity to integrate outdoor learning into each content area of the curriculum.”
Funds from the last PTA plant sale helped the school make water-saving changes to the garden. With guidance from Texas A & M Agrilife Research and Extension's Urban Water Team, students and parents installed a 300-gallon rainwater harvesting system and converted sprinklers to 90 percent efficient drip irrigation.
In addition, the garden is a certified Monarch Waystation with more than 20 milkweed plants to help support the monarch butterfly population.
Meanwhile, the Green Team is comprised of third and fourth grade students who meet after school once a month to work on a variety of projects.
“It was created with the goal of teaching our children sustainability at a young age and encouraging thoughtfulness in their actions so they grow up with a connection to nature and a belief that they can make the world a better place,” Morphew said.
With 54 students, three PTA chairs, two teacher sponsors and parent volunteers, the group has participated in letter writing campaigns to Elmer's and Kraft Foods asking them to responsor recycling brigades for glue sticks and cheese wrappers, said Morphew.
They have also planted trees, filmed a recycling promotion video with Keller High School teacher Ryan Haines and the AV team and hosted a Monarch tagging event.
Up next, plans include the creation of a pocket prairie and adding a covered structure with seating. In addition, the Green Team will kick off an Idle Free initiative soon with plans to create online petitions to encourage companies to recycle their products.