Gaiser Middle School earns the county's first At-Home certification

Earlier this year we worked with Earth Gen, formerly Washington Green Schools, to come up with a way schools could still work on environmental projects as a group and even receive state-wide certification while learning at home. Early in the school year the At-Home certification category was announced and it became the seventh certification category to be earned. To read more about At-Home certification, check here.

Gaiser Middle School, one of our platinum schools (meaning they have certified in all six EarthGen/Washington Green Schools categories) became the first school to receive certification in the new At-Home category. We thought we'd check in with them to see what they did, how it went and what they thought of the experience.

Projects

Each student chose one of four teams and worked on their project with their family for 30 days.
  • Waste & Recycling: our team did trash audits at home to determine how much waste was recyclable. An average of 15% of the home trash was able to be recycled after the initial home audit. Students then placed recycle cans next to the regular trash cans to encourage family members to recycle. Students monitored the trash/recycle ratio. At the end a second trash audit was done and there was an average reduction of 12% recycled materials in the trash can.
  • Home water use reduction: Students timed how long water ran when family members brushed teeth, washed faces, and did dishes. At the end of the month times were taken again. There was an average of 50% reduction in water usage when brushing teeth and washing faces. An average of 60% water usage reduction when washing dishes.
  • Home furnace temperature reduction: Students reduced the thermostat by 2-3 degrees. During this time family members were encouraged to wear sweaters, sweatshirts, and use blankets when cold. One family closed the door to two rooms that were not regularly used. Students reported parents saw a decrease in their monthly electricity bill.
  • Reduce meat consumption: After their audits, students learned that their families ate between 7-10 meat-based meals per week. Students reduced meat-based meals to an average of 3 per week. Students reported parents saw a decrease in their monthly grocery bill.

Challenges

  • Recycling: Once the recycle cans were next to the regular trash can, it was much easier to get family members to recycle. One challenge was a sibling who did not want his brother (the Green Team student) to be successful so would put recycling in the trash, but after a week the sibling got on board and recycled. Another challenge was making sure the items that were in the recycling could be recycled. By researching what could and could not go into the recycle bins it was much easier to quickly put the item in the appropriate place. As family members learned more about what could/not go into the recycle bin fewer mistakes happened, so less contamination was in the recycle bin and less recycled materials were in the trash. 
  • Water reduction: Students reported it was hard to get family members to turn off the water when doing dishes and when brushing teeth. However, after reminders, family members did get significantly better and the need for reminders became less often.
  • Reduced Temperature: The most difficult part was remembering to add layers rather than turning up the thermostat. Families placed blankets on chairs/couches to make them more accessible. This way when cold they could grab a blanket rather than go turn up the temperature. It was hard to break the habit and it was challenging to remind family members to wear layers. The first two weeks were the most challenging, but it got easier and family members did not need as many reminders.
  • Meatless Meals: All students reported this was very difficult. Some were used to eating meat multiple times per day. They reported that families looked up meatless recipes and had fun trying new meals-- and most of them were "really good!"

What kind of results did they see?

  • Recycle: Total Carbon Savings per year 357,148.44; cost savings per year $45.77 average per family; number of trees 571.44 per year 
  • Water: Total 36,135 gallons savings per year; $570.00 per year cost savings- average per family
  • Temperature: Total Carbon savings of 219.84 pounds per year; $189.53 cost savings- average per family
  • Meatless meals: Total Carbon savings of 3263.10 pounds per year; annual cost savings $207.67- average per family

What did they think?

I liked analyzing and seeing how much better we did while doing the challenge for the at-home certification. - Isaac 

What I liked most about the project was it felt good to do something good for the environment. -Kennedy

What I liked about the at-Home certification project was that at the end of the project we noticed the difference we had done.--Citlalli

The green school certification project gave me an opportunity to help out my community from the comfort of my home and taught me that simple changes in everyday life can make a world of difference. --I would prefer to remain ominous.

What I liked most about the at home green school project was that it was enough of a push to change something, but easy enough to
achieve. --Olivia.W

I liked most about the certification project is that my parents were on board with my topic and we helped each other to complete the topic. -- Matthew

My favorite part of doing the green school project was trying new meals. - Liam

The ability to involve their family and choose their own path was a gift. It provided families an opportunity to be an encouraging and supportive team for a positive family and environmental change during our very challenging time. --Dr. Shea

Advice for others?

Our success required each of us to make a commitment to being green. We had to talk with our families to get their support and willingness to participate. Together we had to decide what project would be best for us. We had to teach, encourage and support our families to make positive changes, without them we would not have been successful. For many of our families, the opportunity to improve their home Green commitment has been enhanced with new behaviors being added to what they were already doing.

Due to Covid school closures, we did not meet in person- only through Zoom meetings. As a Green Team, we had to agree on our timeline, do our work and complete our projects as agreed. Without all of us doing our part, we would not have been able to move forward 

CONGRATULATIONS Gaiser Middle School! Way to try something new and become an environmental leader in your home. 

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