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2017-10-04 / News

Composting program gains ground at Providence Middle

BY RICH GRISET STAFF WRITER

Sixth-grade science teacher Nicole Rowland with composting bins at Providence Middle School. With a grant from the Chesterfield Education Foundation, the composting program will expand in the next few weeks. JAMES HASKINS Sixth-grade science teacher Nicole Rowland with composting bins at Providence Middle School. With a grant from the Chesterfield Education Foundation, the composting program will expand in the next few weeks. JAMES HASKINS It’s lunchtime at Providence Middle, and the kids are restless. Standing in the middle of the cafeteria, associate principal MJ Rodney uses a microphone looped through the intercom system to direct students through the lunch line, one table at a time. Some have already begun to munch on the day’s choice of either chicken sandwiches or steak nuggets with a dinner roll. Others are discovering what their parents packed from home.

Simply put, it’s the average school lunch period that takes place every day in cafeterias across America. At least, that is, until the end of the meal.

It’s then that sixth-grade science teacher Nicole Rowland and a couple of student volunteers begin collecting leftovers and cardboard lunch trays for use as compost, organic material that can act as rich soil for plants once decomposed. Food scraps and yard waste are said to make up 20 to 30 percent of what many people throw away, matter that could be used for compost instead.

Brianna Samuels collects food scraps from fellow students in the cafeteria. Brianna Samuels collects food scraps from fellow students in the cafeteria. Today’s bounty is headed to Rowland’s backyard, but soon that won’t be the case. This past school year, Rowland applied for and received a $3,165 grant from the not-for-profit Chesterfield Education Foundation to bring composting to Providence. Ten composting bins are already lined up outside the school, and Rowland hopes to have things up and rotting in the next few weeks. Companies are also pitching in, donating recycling bins and compostable bags to line the scrap collection buckets.

Providence’s journey to composting began last school year when a group of students gave a presentation about composting as part of an Earth Week lesson plan. Rowland presented the idea of composting at school, and soon the entire sixth grade was collecting composting materials from their lunch scraps.

“The kids flew with it,” Rowland says. “They really loved it. They were very enthusiastic.”

Last year, the sixth-grade class collected 400 pounds of compostable materials, which were placed in a compost bin – a plastic container built to help materials decompose – that Rowland purchased for the school. Through a miscommunication, the bin Rowland purchased was destroyed by the ongoing renovation construction at the school, but now the school has 10 bins for composting. The bins will be used for vermicomposting, using worms to aid with the decomposition process.

The hope is that the compost – now gathered by the entire school – will be used to help create a garden at the school. Rowland envisions a variety of educational uses for the garden: math classes measuring plants, Spanish classes growing vegetables to make salsa, science classes creating a habitat for Monarch butterflies. At home, Rowland has a tumbling compost bin she built herself, as well as raised garden beds and backyard chickens.

“I’m kind of passionate about not throwing [food waste] into a landfill,” Rowland says. “So much can be done with it. Why would we just throw it away?”

Back in the cafeteria, 11-year-old Brianna Samuels circles her peers, collecting scraps in a large electric-blue bucket. She says she likes helping out “because then there won’t be as much trash in wastelands. Our soil will be more fertilized to help plants grow.”

Rodney, the associate principal with the microphone, lauds the enterprise.

“Our students have really taken to it,” he says. “It’s really student run. Adult organized, but student run, and they own it.”

Darrell Taylor, 11, conducts data entry for the endeavor, calculating how much compost matter his classmates are collecting.

“I put it in the computer and type the numbers of how it weighs,” says Taylor, adding that he likes helping “because I like dealing with the computers [and] you should help the environment.” ¦

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