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Shooting for a greener school

Students create ideas, prototypes for recycling, composting at school

Riley Staats presents on a greenhouse/compost combination

Swoosh it, bank it, launch it from the three-point range. Whatever you do, recycle it.

That was the message from Discovery Elementary School fifth grade students Emani Armstrong, Amaya Proctor, Drew Geurink and Andrew Kenyi, who designed and created “Chute Hoops,” a collection bin with two mini hoops for bunched up bottles and other plastic items.

“We are doing this because every year 36 million tons of waste is thrown into the landfills,” said Drew, reading from the group presentation. “Half of it is recyclable. Americans throw 35 billion water bottles in the trash. If we use our product, we can reduce that amount.”

From left: John Bizimana, Loghan Sterkenburg, Dion Preniqi, and Landon Ward focused on water conservation

 Added Emani: “We do want to make recycling more fun for kids.”

The students were among several groups in Kentwood Public Schools’ PEAKS program for gifted and talented students working to answer the question, “How do we make Discovery Elementary more green?”

They presented to a panel of judges final ideas around composting, eliminating plastic and styrofoam, conserving water and recycling. The team, dubbed the Air Michiganders, netted the win for their Chute Hoops plastic ball design.

“I love, love, love the idea,” said judge Eric Kelliher, a Kent ISD Career Readiness consultant. “You’ve taken something kids are kind of doing and made it more engaging. I think a lot of kids will be late to class because they will be shooting baskets.”

Students used design thinking to create their prototypes

Discovering Ways to Solve Problems

Students, first tasked with solving a problem in the community, chose to explore how to make the school “greener” after learning about engineering. They tapped into the knowledge of a Steelcase engineer who explained how to build according to LEED certification standards.

They used design thinking to come up with solutions to make the school more environmentally friendly, ideas that could feasibly work. “The whole point is I wanted it to be something we could see happen at Discovery,” said teacher Amanda Barbour, who participated in training on design thinking through Kent ISD.

Chute Hoops has two hoops for bunched up plastic

The first step in design thinking — the “empathy” phase– involves determining the needs of people who are facing a problem. Students interviewed Principal Deb McNally, a custodian and four other staff members who pointed out some less-than-green situations.

Top areas included plastic waste, food waste and water use. Students designed projects based on those areas, creating prototypes to address the waste.

After initial presentations to staff members, they tweaked their projects for the final design challenge. Judges included Kelliher; Kentwood STEM coordinator Nancy McKenzie; and Hristijana Kulasic, a paraprofessional.

Other designs included a compost bin/greenhouse combo to help eliminate food waste and grow food for the cafeteria, to be managed by a fourth and fifth grade garden club; bamboo trays to replace styrofoam trays; and a food smasher for efficient composting.

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese 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 and On-the-Town Magazine. She has been covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network since 2013. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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