Giving Thanks…With Zero Waste
Paideia School is a nonprofit, urban, independent prekindergarten through 12th grade school with a commitment to the environment and to social responsibility as part of its Framework of Values. In addition to the school’s expectation that its students exhibit excellence and hard work, it encourages them to take responsibility for the environment and to advocate preservation and protection of the natural world.
Paideia’s commitment is evident throughout the school: in its facilities, construction and renovation, land and resource stewardship, curriculum, and professional development; as well as the Parent Green Team, the Student Green Team, and community outreach. The Georgia Recycling Coalition, Green Schools Alliance, and USGBC are among many organizations that have recognized Paideia’s achievements with commendations and awards.
Since its founding in 1971, Paideia has acted to reduce its impact on the environment. Supporting the adage, “the greenest building is one that is already standing,” it preserves and repurposes existing buildings, retrofitting for energy efficiency. In 2007, it constructed one of the first LEED-certified school buildings in Atlanta. One notable design feature of this building is buried beneath its campus green: a geothermal heating system, which significantly reduces the cost and environmental impact of heating and cooling. When one of the buildings was devastated by fire, the school salvaged materials, pulling granite and bricks from the rubble to use in new stairs and walkways. That reconstructed facility received LEED Gold certification in 2010.
In addition to minimizing environmental impact via energy efficient construction, Paideia works to lessen water and energy usage, create incentives for green transportation, and minimize waste production. There are bioretention ponds, water wells and cisterns for landscape maintenance, as well as waterless or low-flow restroom fixtures throughout campus. Students and staff enjoy parking privileges if they carpool, leading the majority of Paideia’s community to carpool or use alternative forms of transportation to school.
Parent and Student Green Teams collaborate with staff on a comprehensive waste management program, with bins labeled for recycling, composting, and landfill-bound waste throughout campus. Organic matter goes directly to the school farm for composting by students. The school holds an annual Zero-Waste Thanksgiving Feast, feeding almost 1000 people, but producing only a single small bag of trash. Paideia also provides an innovative Reuse-a-Kit (reusable plates, utensils, cups for at least 100) that can be borrowed by anyone in the community, which is used at most parent-hosted social events.
Paideia supports the health of its whole community. From fitness classes for staff to using ecofriendly cleaning supplies, Paideians, as those in the school community are known, engage in all kinds of wellness efforts. After significantly reducing idling at carpool, Paideia was designated a Clean Air School. Healthy vending machines and farm-grown vegetables at school food sales offer students healthy food choices. Science classes explore nutrition, with parents sharing their culture’s recipes using produce from the school farm. Physical education classes, a sports policy in which students are not cut from sports teams, and extended outdoor recess help the school’s students develop active lifestyles. Flu shots, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and first aid classes all are offered on campus.
Paideia also supports the community beyond those connected to the school. Students grow and deliver thousands of pounds of organically grown vegetables to local soup kitchens and food pantries, install edible gardens in schools and community gardens in less-resourced neighborhoods, and join forces with both nonprofit and for-profit social enterprises working in the area of food justice. Paideia partnered with a prekindergarten Montessori school in a less-resourced community in order to help them create an edible schoolyard garden. The elementary school library has several dedicated parent volunteers who take surplus materials to two underserved schools. The elementary students also collected gently used items for children from the same schools to choose from, allowing them to give gifts to their families. This event culminated in students from three schools sharing gingerbread and playtime on Paideia’s playground. Paideia organizes such events to offer an awareness in its students about the importance of, and interconnectedness of, people-care, planet-care, and a fair share for all in the community.
The school has had particular success in building a thriving urban agriculture program, which engages students in physical activities, the natural world, and inquiry-based exploration of its green spaces using the scientific method. A full-time urban agriculture coordinator facilitates integrating the farm experience into the curriculum. Teachers use Paideia’s farms, forest, and creek areas to teach ecology, biodiversity, and water quality. Elementary students measure, graph, and evaluate waste and consumption; learn about water cycles, from rivers and oceans through how water treatment plants function; and analyze oil spills and their effects. Junior high students take part in a yearlong science and social studies exploration of food, from nutrition through sustainability and food security. High school students may study environmental science, green home design, and ecology, and even may enroll in a course in primitive living.
Paideia intentionally incorporates sustainability concepts throughout the curriculum.
An added benefit of the urban agriculture program is how it develops Paideia’s students’ sense of social responsibility. Students deliver fresh grown produce to local soup kitchens, and work with local schools to help build gardens, even offering composting classes for other schools. They take on leadership roles and explore career opportunities within the field of sustainability. The deep effect of these lessons on students can be seen in the enthusiasm they show in the myriad sustainable activities on campus: Brownies for Batteries, Reuse-A-Shoe, Creek Clean-Ups, and so many more.
At Paideia, a commitment to sustainability is infused in everything, from curriculum to construction to building community. The Paideia community is proud that these values can be seen throughout the campus in structures and land use, but mostly in the students who will shape the future with their passion for caring for this world.