Saint Andrew's Episcopal School Students Green Their School
St. Andrew’s Episcopal School is private school in Austin, Texas that has provided students with a top-notch education and a strong, supportive community since 1952. First open to students in grades 1-6 in the heart of downtown Austin, the school added a new Upper School campus for grades 9-12 on Southwest Parkway in 1998 and graduated its first senior class in 2002.
St. Andrew’s emphasizes four main “pillars” for its students: Scholar, Artist, Athlete, and Servant. The school recognizes that the “Servant” aspect of its curriculum pertains especially to environmental stewardship in this time of growing environmental awareness. This recognition of the need for campus sustainability, combined with the extraordinary efforts of biology teacher and sustainability coordinator, Dina Tucker, and a growing number of dedicated students, have resulted in several notable improvements in the school’s level of sustainability in recent years.
A small, student-run environmental awareness club has existed at the St. Andrew’s Upper School for many years now. However, in the 2014-15 school year a single student, Tia Schwab, class of ’15, formed the “Coalition for theEnvironment” at St. Andrew’s and worked with Ms. Tucker to make incredible strides in just a single year. Their goal was to establish visual representations of sustainable endeavors in all facets of campus life. We started by installing two water bottle filling stations in high-traffic areas on campus, diverting the equivalent of 60,000 plastic bottles. We then commandeered a large number of trash bins throughout campus and converted them to recycling bins, simultaneously educating and creatively incentivizing students and faculty to recycle properly. We doubled our capacity for recycling in a single day!
The Coalition also took over the annual Candy Gram sale from the Student Senate and substantially reduced its environmental impact by eliminating the use of cellophane bags, substituting fair-trade chocolate bars, and handwriting messages on recycled seed paper instead of printer paper. The Coalition used the profits from that project to install LED lights in the school’s chemistry classrooms as a test site for savings; the school already saved more than 6700kWh of electricity and $390 dollars over the past three months. Plans are now being made to retrofit the cafeteria as well. On Earth Day 2015, several club members got together and built our very first garden, which is a hanging herb garden in the science wing. Most importantly, Tia and Ms. Tucker’s efforts resulted in the creation of a new “Sustainability Council”: an elected body of students in charge of leading the Coalition for the Environment and continuing to advance the sustainability of the school.
At the beginning of this school year, we conducted a waste audit to determine how much food waste, recycling and landfill trash we were generating in the cafeteria, as a kickoff for a major composting education campaign. While digging through refuse can be eye-watering, it was very enlightening. We discovered that 96% of the “trash” from the cafeteria was, in fact, compostable. Less than 3% actually belonged in a landfill, and we were sending it all to the same place! In September, the Coalition for the Environment implemented composting in the school cafeteria and has already saved over 3,000 pounds of food waste from landfills. Coalition volunteers are currently working on a campaign to educate the students and faculty about correct composting practices through posters, videos and hilarious announcements. Students volunteer to spend their lunch periods helping their peers to sort out compost, recyclables, and landfill wastes in the lunchroom.
Our efforts also extend to major school events such as Homecoming, the 2015 SPC fall athletics championships, and our recent St. Andrew’s Day celebration on November 19th, during which we facilitated composting throughout our school-wide feast. Students helped our entire community – 1500 people – sort over 570 pounds of waste at a single lunch, diverting 50% to compost, 48% to recycling bins, and with a mere 2% ending up in the landfill. It was the single-most successful event of that scale that we have undertaken, and we really made a statement to the wider community about the direction we’re headed.
St. Andrew’s has recently purchased a large tract of land adjacent to the Upper School campus that the Coalition hopes to convert to a working farm and outdoor classroom in the not-too-distant future. Other goals include the installation of solar panels on some of the school’s major buildings, upgrades of all lighting to LEDs, and the possible establishment of a way-station for monarch butterflies on the new land. The school plans to increase its emphasis on environmental education throughout both campuses grades 1-12 in the coming years, and in its new kindergarten, currently under construction. The hope is that older students will eventually mentor the young Crusaders, spreading environmental enthusiasm and setting an affecting example of stewardship for younger students.
As a St. Andrew’s student who has been heavily involved in the school’s sustainability efforts throughout my four years of high school, I can say that the changes happening here are incredibly inspiring. I feel that I am at a school that truly cares about mitigating its environmental impact, and that my fellow students and I can play a meaningful role in how we go about making those changes. Above all else, St. Andrew’s values its close-knit and supportive community, and I believe it is this environment that has allowed us to make such large strides so quickly. I have great hopes for this school and its sustainability efforts, and I look forward to seeing how my fellow students and I will improve the world with the skills we have learned here.