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Enter stage left: red wigglers named Gregory

Wyoming — Oriole Park Elementary students are spreading the word on the need to reduce food waste in their school– and 100 red wigglers are helping out.

The composting worms – all named Gregory by the students– have taken up residency in a bin in fourth-grade teacher Sheri Adams’ class. Students feed the worms leftover fruit and veggies that would otherwise be tossed in the trash following school lunches. The worms– who will multiply into many more than 100 – eat the food, breaking it down into rich soil perfect for the schoolyard garden.

‘Seeing the students recognize a social issue and the impact that they could have on the issue allowed me to see students understanding their role in society.’

– teacher Sheri Adams

The class was studying food waste as part of a social issues unit. The students weighed the amount of food they were throwing out each week from their classroom alone: about 30 pounds.

“We just found out how much food waste we’ve had in our classroom, and just one classroom makes a lot of food waste,” said student Hayleigh Duck. “We have over 500 students in our school.”

To address the problem, student Laila German said the class chose to create a worm farm – a low-maintenance option as opposed to a more time-consuming compost pile. “We had to research the worms and how we would take care of them and all that stuff,” she said.

The waste becomes something useful and important after the worms do their work, said student Ava Kennedy. “We are making more soil and we are helping the Earth.”

The students partnered with Mark Sheets, a maintenance worker at Wyoming High School, who showed them how to build and care for a worm farm. Sheets will maintain the farm during the summer months.

Laila is also excited that their work – and worms – will live on after they proceed to fifth grade. The plan is for students to continue to maintain the worm garden.

Adams said students spent a lot of time working through the process of trying to find a solution to the fact that they were wasting a lot of food.

“Seeing the students recognize a social issue and the impact that they could have on the issue allowed me to see students understanding their role in society,” she said.

Third-grader Numees McSauby performed as Queen Compost in the puppet show

Now Showing: Queen Compost

Students in teacher Laura Sluys’ special education class are also playing a big role in the project. The students, who spend science and social studies in Adam’s class as part of an inclusion program, shared the need to reduce food waste to their peers in a creative way.

With artist-in-residency Mandy Cano-Villalobos, through Artists Creating Together, they created a puppet show, titled “The Lunch Problem.” Characters like Queen Compost and Super Salad Eater showed how students can eat more of their healthy food and use a worm garden instead of tossing out leftovers.

After the show performed on Earth Day, fourth-grader Jayden Maza explained why food waste is bad for the planet. “It makes the world sick,” he said.

Sluys’ students also surveyed the school on what foods they like in school lunches. Another idea for reducing food waste is to add more meals students like to eat so they throw less out, she said.

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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

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