- Sponsorship -

‘Carbon Cleansers’ Tackle Ways to Reduce Construction Footprint


As large construction vehicles lifted concrete and moved dirt in the school yard to construct a new multi-purpose field and road, students planted a line of 10 young white pine trees next to a wetland bordering West Middle School. Inside a classroom, they glued moss onto cloth-covered pieces of wood, the beginnings of an air-filtering moss wall.

Putting oxygen into the air offsets carbon-dioxide emissions, and a major construction project creates a big ecological footprint, explained eighth-grader Bailey Vandenberg, a member of the school’s Eco Challenge team. The eight Earth-conscious eighth-graders — dubbed “Carbon Cleansers” — are working to offset carbon emissions using an action plan, which they are entering into a competition that has involved the whole school.

“It’s something I care about because we have just been hurting the environment more and more,” Bailey said of polluters and using up natural resources in general. “We are trying to minimize the damage and heal the environment.”

Eighth-graders Sophie Millhouse and Bailey Vandenberg plant a white pine tree on school property
Eighth-graders Sophie Millhouse and Bailey Vandenberg plant a white pine tree on school property

Seventh- and eighth-grade science teachers Justin Vande Pol and Ben Lacy restarted the Eco Challenge team this fall after replacing it with Science Olympiad two years ago. The team is competing in the Scholastic Lexus Eco Challenge, a national STEM competition that awards a total of $500,000 in grants and scholarships to eligible teachers, students, and schools each year.

Students complete projects in the areas of Land and Water, and Air and Climate, for sixteen prizes of $10,000. Winning teams from the challenge can then compete for a final challenge for two $30,000 grand prizes and eight $15,000 first-place prizes.

Along with planting the tree saplings and creating the sustainable moss wall, students hosted a “green” theme week, encouraging their peers to carpool, recycle and reduce paper and electricity usage. Team members presented ways to reduce one’s personal carbon footprint.

They also gathered data from comparing vehicle emissions with the output of oxygen-producing plants and by looking at the impacts of their green-week efforts. They conducted an experiment to collect air-borne particles on vaseline-lathered paper at West Middle School, Byron Center High School and on the Kent Trails and compare the results. And they contacted a Michigan diesel mechanic to help calculate the C02 emission of the construction vehicles.

“We are going to offset the construction with our moss wall and trees,” VandePol said. It will take some time, but the trees — a white pine lives on average 200 years — and the wall will offset the construction. We completed our mission.”

Eighth-grader McKenna Morris shows particles captured on vaseline strips from the air at different locations
Eighth-grader McKenna Morris shows particles captured on vaseline strips from the air at different locations

A History of Eco-Consciousness

Eco Challenge at West Middle School has an impressive track record. The 2014 team won $40,000 including the grand prize. They provided two pedal-powered generators for students to charge their laptops rather than plug in to outlets, and, for the final challenge, purchased water filters and a well for communities in Haiti, the Philippines and Kenya. In 2010-2011 the team won $10,000 by raising funds to buy rainforest land to completely offset the Middle School building’s carbon footprint and helping transition to a paperless system.

“I love the opportunity to connect science to the real world and mentor students who are passionate about science,” Vande Pol said. “And, of course, to make a difference in the school and local community.”

Team member Kierin Hawkins said she likes that she is helping leave a green mark at the school. An animal lover, she wants to preserve the planet for its many creatures. “It’s our only world,” she said.

Students said they are learning about the environmental impact of everyday choices and activities.

“It’s eye-opening to learn how much construction affects the environment,” added team member Alena Walker.

Being good environmental stewards requires effort from all parties, and Owen Ames Kimball, the construction firm completing district-wide bond projects, has stepped up, Vande Pol said. Along with preserving wetlands, it is using recycled concrete for the gravel base under the new roads, and parking lots and all concrete and masonry waste on this project will be recycled. On projects district-wide, new buildings’ shells are completely insulated, doors and windows are insulated, and electric heat will be installed, which lessens the impact of fossil fuels on the environment.

CONNECT

Moss Walls

Ways to Offset Your Carbon Footprint

- Sponsorship -
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

LATEST ARTICLES

Longtime volunteer does whatever’s needed for school: ‘I love being here’

A 24-year parent and grandparent volunteer tends to student and family needs at Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Academy...

Lessons from a pandemic: ‘agile learners’ need ‘agile adults’

Reflecting on the end of fall semester and 2020, Superintendent Dedrick Martin sat down with School News Network to discuss how Caledonia adapted to school closures, virtual learning and social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic...

It’s all about getting students back to classrooms, Supt. Shibler says of the vaccine

Superintendent Michael Shibler hopes the more people get vaccinated, the closer we are to the end of the pandemic...

Young constitutional scholars view current events, politics through historical lens

East Grand Rapids and East Kentwood high school We the People team members have qualified for the national competition, becoming well versed in civics and critical thinking along the way...

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Related Articles

The sky’s the limit (or is it?) for this accomplished model builder

Creative, innovative, imaginative … Many of today’s students are all that and more in a vast variety of interest areas. This series features students with exceptional and unusual gifts...

Habits tie in with leadership, diversity in elementary school

Elementary students are learning seven habits of leadership to develop independence, problem-solving skills as part of a social emotional curriculum...

Third-grader collects winter clothes, blankets to help those in need

(Photo by Dianne Caroll Burdick) Brown Elementary third-grader Jojo Gurd has worked to collect winter clothes and other items to help people experiencing homelessness in Grand Rapids...
- Sponsorship -

HOW'S SCHOOL TODAY?

Engagement: The Most Important Measure of Student Success

Polls find that students’ engagement in their school work declines as they ascend the grades. Tests that don’t relate to their real-life experiences exacerbate the problem...

RADEMACHER & FRIENDS

Food ‘angels’ support hungry kids through pandemic

They work all across Kent County, guardian angels with peanut butter on their hands and crumbs on their shirtsleeves...
- Sponsorship -

MEDIA PARTNERS

Maranda Where You LiveWGVU

SUSTAINING SPONSORS