Sustainability in the ECC: A Lesson for the Future

Caring for our planet through different sustainability efforts is a priority at ASF for good reason. When we think about the definition of sustainability as "the quality of causing little or no damage to the environment and therefore able to continue for a long time," it becomes easier for us to consider how important it is to teach students about sustainability from a young age. This is why, as early as the ECC, our students get a grip on what it means to lead an environmentally-friendly life and lessen their impact on the environment, in line with the school’s mission of educating global citizens for a changing world.

Sustainability can be an excellent way of teaching different capabilities, skills and knowledge to ECC students; encouraging critical thinking, reflection, evaluation and positive values, as well as a connection to nature and deeper understanding of our world and our environment. Finally, it gives students the chance to act in ways that contribute to a conscious, sustainable and better tomorrow. “It is important to take care of the planet because the world could be a better place,” expresses Nando DaSilva, K3 student.

One of the goals of developing a sustainability program in schools is to raise climate change awareness and illustrate how students play a significant role in the solution of this problem. At ASF, there is a Sustainability Committee for all divisions. “This is a K-12 committee integrated by teachers, parents, students, administrators and staff whose goal is to integrate the Education for Sustainable Development model into our curriculum and management practices. Sustainable Development, as defined by the World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987, is a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” explains José Carlos Alaníz, K-12 Sustainability Coordinator.

The committee has been created to build sustainable practices and sustainable education on our campus, in our curricula and our community. In other words, it seeks to train teachers and educate students on environmental topics and coordinate activities which foster environmental awareness like the recycling program and special recycling campaigns for batteries or electronics. Each division has its own Sustainability Coordinator and while some of its programs and campaigns permeate the school as a whole, like the recycling campaign, other initiatives are particular to a specific division, for example, the bottle cap collection program in the ECC.  "We bring bottle caps to recycle and take care of the planet," observes Kiara Sarfat Zellhoefer, K3 student.

ECC students and their families are encouraged to collect plastic bottle caps throughout the school year. These caps are washed, sorted and used by students to engage in educational games and activities. Toward the end of the school year, the ECC invites a local preschool to campus. ECC students socialize with their peers, play games using the bottle caps, and finally, donate them to the Grisi Foundation and the Salvador Zubirán National Institute of Medical Sciences and Nutrition. These institutions work together to help patients with pancreatic cancer. Every ton of collected bottle caps is equal to $ 4,000.00 pesos, which is used to support two goals: purchasing supplies for surgery and covering postoperative chemotherapy for patients with pancreatic cancer. Bottle caps are melted down to make hoses, which are then sold to support these goals. Through the bottle cap collection program "we can help the sick children," expresses Sebastián Salazar Herrera, K3 student.

Every Monday, students bring in their bags of bottle caps to the ECC. “Students greatly enjoy collecting and bringing bottle caps to school. Every Monday during the flag ceremony, students are called to the front if they have caps. Here they have the opportunity to say their name on the microphone, making them feel proud,” states Graciela Argüelles, ECC Sustainability Coordinator. Students don’t just bring in one or two bottle caps, they bring in a lot. “As the year progresses, more and more children bring in their caps. Some days they’ll bring in bags with 20 or 30 bottle caps and other times they’ll bring in hundreds”, adds Graciela.

Graciela Argüelles, ECC Sustainability Coordinator

Earth Week is another event that highlights the importance of caring for the environment. “It is held each year during the week Earth Day is celebrated. This year it will take place from April 23 to 26, 2019. During Earth Week, the whole community joins under a specific theme and more than 1,000 students participate in multiple workshops, conferences, theatre plays, trips and activities which celebrate our planet and foster a sustainable lifestyle,” expressed José Carlos. Regarding the ECC, Graciela adds, “We’ve done activities where older students come over to present projects about sustainability and we sign up for different workshops, so it’s very collaborative. I’d like to make it even more interactive this year, and have kids do a project and present it, working towards creating a culture of sustainability.”

Many other activities take place in the ECC classroom all year round, encouraging children to think about their own consumption from a more broad and sustainable perspective. "Raising awareness about sustainability is important at any age. What is wonderful about doing so with students between the ages of three and six is that they learn quickly and become easily invested. They feel passionate about what they learn and teach others,” expresses Graciela. “It is important to look after our planet so we can live here,” adds Max Kalach, K3 student. “We put plastic in one bag and then shiny wrappers in another bag and paper in another bag,” explains Pía Cordero, K3 student.

The recycling program at ASF is a great way to draw attention to how each person’s consumption (no matter how young they are) affects sustainability and contributes to our planet’s diminishing capacity for waste.  “We recycle to make new stuff out of recyclable materials,” states Nando DaSilva, K3 student. In an effort to explain how the program works to our younger students, Roar, the school’s mascot has been featured in a video about how to correctly separate different types of waste in the colorful bins placed in each division. “In terms of the recycling program, students are very careful to place waste in the correct bag and dispose of it properly, for example by cutting juice boxes open and rinsing them before placing them in the bin,” adds Graciela.   


As ECC students have lunch in the classroom, teachers have a great deal of control over the recycling program, and students get very good at separating their trash. “Kids as young as four know how to separate trash, they know shiny wrappers go in the grey  bin, along with. tetra pak, they know what plastic is, and this is because it’s happening every single day, so it becomes a routine for them. When students are doing any kind of cutting activity, they automatically know that all their left-over paper goes in a specific bag. They have a very clear understanding of sustainability in particular through the recycling program. Here in the ECC, we are really training these kids, so that by the time they get to Lower School, they should be able to continue the program, because they already know how to do it,” says Graciela.

Every division, depending on the IB programme, takes on sustainability in a different way. “For instance, in K2, we are setting them up so that by our last unit of inquiry, which is Sharing the Planet, students will know about living and nonliving things, natural resources, different habitats and looking at the impact we have on the world. So, showing them videos of how we are affecting our environment makes them even more committed to recycling and reducing waste,” shares Graciela. By the end of K2, students have a clear understanding of what recycling is, the impact it has on the world and the notion that it is not enough.

We start out by teaching them about sustainability on a local scale, next we show them about the community and what that looks like, which will then segway into Sharing the Planet. So, the IB is very closely tied to the Sustainability Program.

Our goal at ASF is for the whole community to become involved with our sustainability efforts and work together towards a greener future. In this sense, parents can become more involved in different ways. A simple way for them to avoid waste is to send their children zero waste lunches to school. This means reducing single-use packaging and items like plastic straws and cutlery. Instead, parents are encouraged to send lunches in tupperwares, bento boxes or other reusable containers. The school also encourages parents to avoid sending their children processed food and drinks, which not only limit the amount of wrappers and packaging that go to waste, but also limit children’s sugar intake and help them establish healthy eating patterns.

“Families can also support students at home and in the community by talking about simple changes, for example switching off the lights when they leave a room, taking shorter showers, using a cup of water when brushing their teeth, turning off the tap while washing their hands, and cleaning up waste found on the street or on the beach,” assures Graciela. Another way parents can help is for them to not send in disposable plates, cups and cutlery during birthday celebrations, which generate a great amount of waste. Instead, what we are trying to promote is for every classroom to have their own set of plates, that are then reused.

In the ECC, Graciela is currently attempting to put together a sustainability program with short term and long term goals, so that whenever she leaves the position, someone new can continue the program. “One thing I’m working on right now as a long term goal is planning a garden in the ECC. I’m working with a company who creates urban gardens, and I’ve sent them the IB curriculum, so they can come in and propose a plan for us. Another thing that we are going to start doing very soon is implementing a worm compost bin within the next following months, so that the kids can see how food becomes dirt again with the help of worms, teaching them that they don’t need to be afraid of getting dirty, which is a very scary concept for some of our students. Instead, we want them to know that dirt isn’t bad, it helps food grow and nurture us.

In our current society, teaching young people about sustainability has never been more important. It develops the knowledge, values and world views required to make sure that there are enough resources for everyone, forever. If you would like to learn more about sustainability in the ECC and how to implement it at home, please contact Graciela Argüelles, ECC Sustainability Coordinator at arguellesg@asf.edu.mx. For more information about the Sustainability Committee in general, please contact José Carlos Alaníz, K-12 Sustainability Coordinator at alanizj@asf.edu.mx


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