Creating Sustainable Change
For the students at Ridgeview Elementary School in Granite Bay, conservation and recycling are more than a fad. They’re a way of life – thanks to Julia.
As a former Ridgeview student, Julia planned, designed and built a “conservation station” for 4th-6th grade students to use and recycle the trash generated during lunch time. The station has containers for recycling, compostables and items for the landfill, which makes it easy for students to sort items into the appropriate bin.
“I knew I wanted to do a project that would change people’s lives and help them take care of themselves,” said 18-year-old Julia. “A Gold Award project has to be sustainable, so I came up with a plan for kids to recycle at school.”
The Gold Award, the highest award in Girl Scouting, is presented to Girl Scouts in grades 9-12 who have researched, planned and executed programs that create meaningful change in their communities. Just over 5% of eligible Girl Scouts successfully earn this honor.
Julia began her project in May, 2016, by working with a group of advisors. Over the summer, she coordinated a rummage sale fundraiser to develop the conservation station. She also designed and built the station, and trained incoming 6th grade student volunteers to help run the station once school started.
“I researched how to get kids to care about recycling, and created educational materials,” Julia said. “I also coordinated with the cafeteria workers and janitor to change the lunch process so the kids could sort and recycle their trash on their way to recess.”
She introduced the conservation station on the first day of school in August, 2016, with the help and support of faculty, staff and students. Although it took some time for students to get used to sorting their garbage, the response to the station was overwhelmingly positive.
“The kids are a lot more aware of what they throw away,” Julia said. “After we started the conservation station, more kids started bringing reusable water bottles and lunch bags to school.” She reports that students have also positively impacted their families’ grocery budgets by reducing the amount of their lunch that goes to waste. “They cared enough to talk with their parents and change their own ways.”
By the end of the school year, the conservation station was running smoothly. Student volunteers make sure the trash gets sorted properly and they transport the compostables to the school’s EcoLab, a productive greenhouse, garden, composting and worm-farming program. The school janitor recycles all of the bottles and cans with proceeds going to the EcoLab.
Julia was presented with the prestigious the Gold Award in spring 2017, after spending more than 500 hours working on the project. She said the most rewarding part was seeing the culture change at the school.
“Our culture is so disposable, and it was great to see the kids change their own actions,” Julia said. “I’m proud that I was able to help them feel empowered and inspired to make changes. They’ve even expanded the program on their own to include recyclable and compostable collection in the staff lounge and the school kitchen.”
In addition to educating students about conservation, Julia learned valuable skills that she’ll use in the future.
“I gained greater self-confidence and improved my public speaking skills,” she said. “I also learned how to build and lead a team, and how to communicate better with people of all ages. These are all things that will help me in college and in my career.”
Julia encourages girls to stay involved in Girl Scouts as they enter middle and high school.
“It’s so worth it to work on large projects that can really impact your community,” she said. “Find something that you’re passionate about. Go in with your whole heart, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.”