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Eco-Friendly: Students Learn to Lead Waste Reduction Efforts
Posted 4/8/22

Weibel students sorting waste

Students across Fremont Unified School District are working toward a greener future by leading efforts to reduce the District's climate impact, and laying a foundation for their advocacy to reach future students. 

In May 2021, FUSD’s Board of Education adopted a resolution brought forward on behalf of a group of FUSD high school students that declared FUSD’s commitment to educating students on climate change and climate solutions. 

“I am proud and grateful that our students are initiating environmental action and accountability at all levels,” said Superintendent CJ Cammack. “Waste reduction is an important element of largely student-championed efforts in FUSD, supported by our Board of Education, to reduce our climate impact and use resources more sustainably.”

assembly at Durham
Durham Elementary’s waste reduction presentation with District Recycling Coordinator Stephanie Willits and City of Fremont representative Larry Kass in March 2022.

Opportunities to reduce FUSD’s climate impact arise daily with school lunches. FUSD Recycling Coordinator Stephanie Willits is working with schools to teach students about the importance of composting to reduce methane emissions, and how to be part of the solution with each meal. 

Willits partners with City of Fremont representatives to host assemblies to launch schools’ waste reduction programs, and teach students about how and why to compost. The City provides recycling containers, and Republic Services supports by providing compost bins. 

Willits joins school lunch periods for at least a week after the launch to help enforce good habits, answer questions and train students to lead ongoing efforts. 

The roots of these efforts stretch back to 2008, when John F. Kennedy High School became the first FUSD site to establish a campus compost program, pre-dating the passage of California’s Senate Bill 1383, which sets goals to reduce organic waste disposal and the methane emissions they cause. 

“Fremont Unified saw the writing on the wall back when compost programs were first becoming a requirement in California in the early 2000s,” said Willits. “Even though schools were exempt back then, they still moved forward with their green efforts. And now, we will already be in full compliance with SB 1383 by the end of the school year, while other districts may be struggling to get started.” 

Weibel students sorting waste
Weibel Elementary students help sort lunch waste in December 2021. (photo courtesy of Larry Kass)

Weibel Elementary came on board in November 2021. Its students stepped up immediately, sending only one bag to the landfill from lunches instead of the four to six bags on an average day. Site staff also noticed a drastic reduction in lunch-area litter compared to pre-program levels.

In March 2022, Durham Elementary became the latest site to join the program; the school used to produce seven bags of trash during lunch, it’s down to two bags after launching its program. 

Over the nearly 14 years since this work began in FUSD schools, students and staff have seized this as an opportunity to flex their power for good. 

Ardenwood Elementary launched its compost and recycling initiative in 2012, and has built waste reduction efforts into their lunchtime culture. Student volunteers and visual cues around the campus during lunch reinforce the school’s commitment to making their efforts successful. 

Ardenwood Green Team
Ardenwood student and Green Team volunteer Divya S. with teacher Teresa Friedheim in March 2022.

“I do this so we can all keep the environment clean and healthy,” said Divya S., a 3rd grade student at Ardenwood, while directing students’ lunch waste and using a grabber to re-sort as needed. Divya is in Teresa Friedheim’s class, and was one of the student volunteers on March 31 for the school’s Green Team, a rotating group of students who help others to properly sort their waste.

Friedheim took on a waste reduction coordinating role at Ardenwood five years ago; she recruits and trains student volunteers to be on the Green Team in week-long shifts. Friedheim uses StopWaste resources, like aprons for Green Team volunteers and videos with tips to sort cafeteria waste, to get students excited about volunteering. 

Friedheim also incentivizes participation with Ardenwood Dragon Dollars, earlier lunch dismissal when allowed by teachers, and a pizza party at the end of the year. Beyond that, the students are motivated by the bigger picture.

“We want them to feel like they are contributing to the success of our environment,” said Friedheim, who tells students about some of the long-term benefits of their work: compost helps plants grow, and keeping food waste out of landfills cuts down on methane emissions.

Ardenwood’s program is an example of what a long-term, dedicated commitment to waste reduction looks like for a school, but its success depends on sustained effort. 

Green Team volunteer and student at Ardenwood
Green Team volunteer at Ardenwood in March 2022.

“There isn’t always success,” said Friedheim, who trains new student volunteers at the start of every week, cleans the waste sorting bins on a regular basis, and ensures students from her class are available to help the rotating volunteers. “Just because you set it up doesn’t mean it’s going to succeed. You have to be on top of it.”

Only two FUSD locations are left to join the waste reduction program and bring FUSD to full participation: Robertson High School and the District Office. Planning is underway to bring both sites on board after spring break.  

Complementary and further efforts are also underway. In February 2022, the Board adopted “The Roosevelt Resolution,” which outlines a commitment to transitioning to a zero-waste to landfill entity, and directed staff to begin building a plan for implementation. This resolution was also championed by a dedicated group of students: the Thornton Junior High School Energy & Sustainability Club. 

“There is much work ahead to meet the environmental goals our district is setting,” said Cammack. “Fortunately, FUSD students, staff and our community are stepping up to meet this challenge.”

FUSD thanks our school communities – including students, custodians, lunch supervisors, teachers and others – for supporting this important work at our schools, and everyone doing their part to reduce waste at home. 

“Having our students participate in the compost program at school solidifies the same habits they may already have at home,” said Willits. “And if the compost service isn't being utilized at home, the students have the opportunity to teach the adults in their lives on how to separate the food waste properly.”

Families can get resources and learn more about waste reduction and other environmental efforts around Fremont at the City’s Go Green! Earth Day Community Event on April 23, 2022. 

More Eco-Friendly news is posted on our website, and more stories are coming with updates on the amazing work being done in our school community. 

Go to: FUSD News