Grant Elementary is one of eleven elementary schools in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. My son attends kindergarten at Grant; we moved to the neighborhood last summer in large part due to the school's excellent reputation. Having been active on the "green team" at my son's preschool, I was eager to get involved with sustainable activities at Grant, and was pleased to discover that the school already had a passionate group of environmentalist parent volunteers called the Green Geckos. I joined up right away and was impressed to learn more about what had already been accomplished by team leaders Christine Goddard and Harriet Fraser.
Christine explains how the Green Geckos got started at Grant: "When my oldest daughter started kindergarten in 2006, I was very surprised to learn that even though our schools are within Santa Monica, a city that heavily promotes sustainability, the school district did nothing to incorporate sustainable practices within our schools. I couldn't believe, for example, that we didn't even have any recycle bins on campus. I began talking to our principal and SMMUSD officials to see how we could improve our green goals, to teach and encourage students to be more eco-conscious."
One of the most important goals for the Green Geckos has been reducing the amount of waste generated by the school, and Christine acknowledges the challenges that come with changing the habits of a community of over 600 students. "We have continuously encouraged zero-waste lunches and zero-waste events at Grant. I must say it has been a struggle, as it takes constant reminders throughout the year and a lot of organizing, but I do feel our Grant community has over the years become more environmentally aware and continues to do so. Each year Grant holds a Fall Festival/Monster Mash, which draws a crowd of approximately 2,000 people, and I feel we have finally taken a hold of that as a zero waste event." A trash-free carnival is an extraordinarily lofty goal, and it has taken tireless commitment on the part of parent volunteers to make it happen (no one really enjoys sorting through garbage).
Another program that demonstrates Grant's commitment to a healthy planet is Friday Food Fest with Chef Gino. Harriet Fraser started the program after she met Italian chef Gino Campagna with Jamie Oliver and the Food Revolution team at a brainstorming session in downtown L.A. Harriet explains, "My first thought had been to do recipe demonstrations at school, but then when I met Gino, and loved his big personality, I thought he could really bring something special to the program and we decided to get the children involved with cooking themselves and preparing their own lunch." Now Grant students are lucky enough to work directly with Chef Gino once a month to create healthy lunches around whole grains, lean meats and vegetables -- there's even dessert, usually involving fresh fruit. Whole Foods Market donates the food, and Gino does all of the shopping and prep ahead of time so everything is ready to go before school starts on Friday mornings. To reinforce Grant's zero-waste lunch goals, students are encouraged to bring their own empty food containers. And if they forget, the Green Gecko team has brand-new containers available for a suggested donation, or free to anyone who doesn't have the cash.
The Green Geckos work is far from complete. For example, we'd like to eliminate all toxic cleaning products, paints, etc., and replace them with non-toxic, biodegradable products throughout the school district. Healthier lunches served in school cafeterias -- with meats free of hormones and antibiotics and fewer processed foods -- are another top goal. With the continued support of our community, we're confident we'll make more positive changes. To parents who are inspired to make similar strides at their own kids' schools, Christine advises, "It is imperative that you get the school staff and school district on board, otherwise it feels like a losing battle. Reach out to like-minded friends and parents to see how you can work together to achieve your goals, and continue to contact the school's administrators to help get all parents, students and staff involved."
This profile of Grant Elementary is the first in an occasional series about sustainable schools in the greater Los Angeles area. If you know of a school that emphasizes environmental consciousness in its curriculum, or has successfully implemented sustainable practices, I would love to hear about it.