Students make an impact through Environmental Club

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Ulaa Kuziez

Picking up trash from outside of the cafeteria, junior and co-leader of the club Zoe Rutledge participates in the first Campus Clean Up Day. Environmental Club hosted its first Campus Clean Up Day in September, with the goal of raising awareness about trash left behind by students. “[Sustainability] is important because it’s definitely a more pressing issue than before,” Rutledge said. “It’s easier to get a bigger impact if you have an organized group who’s dedicated to that. So having this group of students who are all here to work towards bettering our environment, that definitely makes it easier to get stuff done.”

People around the world, particularly youth, are pushing their governments for change to combat the climate crisis. Through Environmental Club, students are participating in sustainability challenges and other events to raise awareness and make an impact in the school community.

The club hosted its first Campus Clean Up Day Sept. 28 with the goal of removing trash from the school campus and raising awareness. 

“We made a lot of progress, but it was upsetting how much trash there was,” junior and co-leader Zoe Rutledge said. “Most of it was just food trash, [so] that is something we can work on.”  

The Environmental Club is also participating in the Parkway Sustainable Schools Challenge, a districtwide effort to empower students to create a more sustainable future. 

“The intent [of the program] was to better connect students and staff in the district with sustainability concepts and what individuals could do to make a difference in the world,” Director of Sustainability and Purchasing Erik Lueders said.

The Parkway Sustainable Schools Challenge is open to all Parkway students, teachers and staff.  Participants earn points by completing activities that align with sustainability goals and at the end of each month, leading schools earn cash prizes. The school currently has 250 sustainability points from projects like litter observation and a food waste survey. 

“With each of the different challenges we do per month I learn something new,” sophomore and co-leader Maura Collins said. “I think the challenges are important because they remind you to look at all the little things you do, and systematic change starts small. When you break down the issues of personal sustainability to little pieces, it’s easier to try and fix the problems.”  

Another way the club is hoping to make a change is through participating in the Missouri Green Schools Quest, a statewide program that helps schools devise and implement creative and effective sustainable practices. Students are researching and planning long term projects like a community greenhouse, an indoor garden and an educational corner. 

“For the Green School’s Quest, we’re trying to focus on our community as a whole,” Collins said. “We’re dividing into teams to research. We’re also just always trying to find more people that are interested.”

The club will be sending out a school wide survey in the next few weeks asking the student body which of the ideas they are most interested in.   

“Our main goal is to better students relationship with the environment,” Rutledge said. “We want to start small and then expand to the community [where] we can make a bigger impact.”

Through existing programs like the Sustainable Schools Challenge, the district wants to encourage more students to take action to confront climate change. 

“I encourage [students] to participate in the Sustainable Schools Challenge. I think there’s a lot of opportunities out there and ideas to get started,” Sustainability Coordinator Hannah Carter said. “It first starts with raising awareness around some of these issues.” 

The district is looking to continue to connect students and teachers with opportunities to learn about sustainability and what they can do individually.

“We’re just trying to encourage individuals to be hopeful [because] there are a million things that we can do on a regular basis,” Lueders said. “It can be overwhelming, but let’s start somewhere, and let’s build that collective excitement to make positive change.”

Rutledge is also hopeful about the future and encourages her fellow peers to join the movement toward sustainability. 

“It definitely starts with the students because there’s so many of us,” Rutledge said. “The smallest things we do will have a big impact because of how many students we have.”