Schools, Issaquah School District win Earth Heroes at School Awards

May 8, 2012

By Staff

Renee De Tolla, Ashley Hirst and Leslie Lederman (from left), of Grand Ridge Elementary School, pose with King County Executive Dow Constantine at April 26’s Earth Heroes award ceremony. By Ned Ahrens/King County Department of Transportation

The Issaquah School District’s green side was on display recently when it received several environmental honors from King County Executive Dow Constantine.

“In the lunchroom and in the classroom, the students and staff of the Issaquah School District have learned how to produce less garbage and use less energy, setting a high standard for recycling and waste reduction that deserves recognition,” Constantine said in a press release.

Issaquah earned recognition as a King County Level One Green School District, and several individual Earth Heroes at School Awards .

The district received the Level One rating because of its waste reduction and recycling practices. At least 75 percent of a district’s schools must complete Level One school criteria in order for a school district to achieve the status. Issaquah surpassed the requirement with 88 percent — or 21 of its 24 schools — qualifying. Five schools also earned recognition from the county for their energy conservation actions (Level Two) or water conservation actions (Level Three).

“One of the things we have been focusing on for the last several years is recycling,” John Macartney, the school district’s resource conservation manager, said at the April 25 school board meeting.

Macartney told board members that progress can also be measured in the 7,500 cubic yards of paper, milk jugs, cans and other material that has been recycled this year. The district’s efforts have also resulted in 2,000 cubic yards of compost and a total waste reduction of 7,400 cubic yards. Those efforts have reduced energy use by 20 percent, he said. Some helpful methods have included replacing plastic-wrapped utensils and straws with unwrapped forks and spoons.

The district has also cut down on food waste with its “offer and select” policy, which allows students to only take what they will eat in the lunch line. Many leftovers at the end of the day are then donated.

The lunchroom has been the place where many students have made a big change. At Newcastle Elementary School, 90 children from second to fifth grades volunteer on a rotating schedule to give up their recess to be Waste Watchers. They stand by the garbage, recycling and composting bins and help educate their peers about what goes where.

“They get really excited about it,” said second-grade teacher Kathy Keegan, adding that sometimes the Waste Watchers even brave the bins to retrieve something that was mis-sorted. “It’s about empowering kids and letting them know they can make a difference … and it saves our district so much money to use toward curriculum.”

The students at Issaquah Valley Elementary School have also figured out how to significantly reduce their lunchroom’s footprint. Last year, the fifth grade embarked on a mission to hold a waste-free lunch. But before they could do that each class picked a topic, like composting or recycling, researched it and then taught their peers all that they had learned. Their efforts resulted in a single-day reduction of lunch garbage by 23 1/2 pounds. Since then, the school’s recycling rate has risen from 44 percent to 54 percent.

“They really get it,” Issaquah Valley Principal Diane Holt said. “We’ve really shrunk our garbage can at the cafeteria. It’s so much smaller than it used to be.”

Holt’s school, along with Newcastle and two teachers at Grand Ridge were also awarded last week by King County for being Earth Heroes. The honors were given out April 26 by Constantine to students, parents, teachers and staff members who “share a passion for environmental conservation.”

Renee De Tolla and Ashley Hirst, both teachers at Grand Ridge, were recognized for leading the elementary school to a Level Two green schools ranking. The two also helped erect solar panels and a wind turbine at Grand Ridge.

Lillian Tucker: 392-6434, ext. 242, or Comment at

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