Presidents Elementary tests district composting program

Kindergartner Aiden Green sorts food compost from garbage at Presidents Elementary.   - Adam Rudnick
Kindergartner Aiden Green sorts food compost from garbage at Presidents Elementary.
— image credit: Adam Rudnick

ARLINGTON — Kaylee Wren didn’t know that food and dirt were related until earlier this school year.

“We had an assembly and they showed us how to compost,” said Wren, a fifth-grader at Presidents Elementary School. “They showed us a bag of dirt. I didn’t know food turned in to dirt.”

Nearly two months later, Wren and her classmates at Presidents are actively sorting food waste from garbage during their lunch time thanks to a new program being piloted at the school.

Instead of dumping all of their leftovers from lunch into garbage cans, students toss their banana peels, apple cores and even napkins and paper products into one of a handful of bins marked “Compostables Only.”

“Since we serve as the kitchen for the district here, we probably have a higher degree of food waste,” Presidents Principal Terri Bookey said. “It started in our kitchen last spring and we brought it to the students in the fall.”

The school held an assembly earlier this year during which representatives from Cedar Grove Composting, who coordinate the program with the school district, talked with students about composting.

Shortly after the assembly, students of all ages understood what they were supposed to do, said Wren, adding that it only took students about two days to understand what was expected of them.

“The kids really enjoy it,” said Wren, who is a member of Presidents’ Respect Team and was in charge of training her classmates on the new procedure. “It’s easy for the little kids, too.”

Respect Team members are students that help prevent harassment, bullying and prejudice within schools, and also help out in various school activities.

“We use them as our school leaders,” Bookey said. “We had them come in two at a time for a week and stand by the garbage and answer questions.”

Six students were initially trained in September.

Presidents kitchen manager Margaret Burts said that the program has made an impression on students.

“A lot of them are also doing this at home,” Burts said Wednesday, Oct. 28, during lunch time. “They’re always so good, and the best part is that it’s not going into the landfill.”

Representatives from Cedar Grove pick up the waste, which eliminates some of the costs associated with disposing of school waste, Bookey said.

Presidents Elementary kitchen staff prepares meals for all schools in the Arlington School District.

Sid Logan, executive director of operations for the Arlington School District, said the composting program is saving the district an estimated $940 per year.

“We are still in the evaluation stage for adding composting to additional schools,” Logan said in an e-mail.

Bookey said that so far the program has been a success at Presidents.

“It’s such a win-win situation for us,” Bookey said. “What I like the most is that it’s teaching the kids. It’s such a good green activity — the kids have really been on board with it.”

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