[From the National Catholic Reporter]
At the onset of the 2016-17 school year, students at Cheverus High School in Portland, Maine, walked outside their classroom to learn about trees. Beforehand, theology teacher Mary King had quizzed them on corporate logos — they knew hundreds — but found they lacked similar recall about the local flora.
"We don't know an elm from an oak," she said.
The outdoors exercise had students identifying the trees around their campus: In Maine, plenty of pines, though students spotted a maple and American beech, as well. Back in the classroom, they took to social media to share snaps of their campus foliage, but also to see what grew near Catholic schools elsewhere in the country. There was a cottonwood in St. Louis, a sycamore and aspen in Omaha, Nebraska, and redwoods outside Santa Cruz, California.
The photo-sharing activity, through the hashtag #iggycarbon, was part of the Ignatian Carbon Challenge, a program created by Cheverus teachers King, Cicy Po and Helene Adams, but adopted by Catholic schools nationwide through the Ignatian Solidarity Network.
Semester I -- Ignatian Carbon Challenge Update:
The Ignatian Carbon Challenge (ICC) engages at the individual and institutional level, each promoting various sustainability challenges to our community. From around the nation, the ICC has inspired some schools to fully ban single use bottles, harvest school gardens and hydroponic gardens for local food banks, create biodiesel fuel, send up weather balloons, wrap Christmas gifts in newspapers and create meaningful repurposed, upcycled ornaments that celebrate the true meaning of Christmas. Here is a brief update of ways we have joined with schools nationwide to meet the challenge.
At the institutional level, rigorous feasibility analyses have been conducted since February 2016 to explore plans to install solar panels. We are partnering with Revision Energy of Portland, Maine, as we search for a viable spot to install the panels. Thus far, the analysis* has examined a variety of locations at the Ocean Ave. and Washington Ave. campuses. Given the current research, we are as yet unsure of the scale at which solar energy will power Cheverus. Eventually, with panel installation, there would be a visible display showing how much energy we are using schoolwide, and how much energy we are collecting from the sun. The primary goal of Cheverus’ solar initiative is to educate our students and larger community about solar energy and our energy consumption; the project will also offset our carbon footprint and our significant electricity bill. Early rumors of this effort were met with prideful exclamations and enthusiasm by students.
- Ruth Summers and Nancy Thomas in the admissions department have eliminated the use of water bottles at open house and other events.
- Thanks to John Moran and Sue Sullivan, our faculty meetings now are almost completely waste free.
- In keeping with many international trends to ban single use items, Becky Labbe has transitioned the cafeteria to all compostable plates and utensils.
- Students are slowly reshaping habits as they learn to use the composting system in our cafeteria, thanks to Rodger Cilley’s ecological vision for that space.
- The accumulation of trash in our classroom waste bins has been reduced drastically due to robust efforts by Dan Costigan, faculty and staff to keep food, waste and bottles in the cafeteria.
- Despite all the growing pains, we have significantly reduced our cafeteria waste. We thank Brian Lemay and his team -- Wilberta Kirchner, Mark Smith and Jim Ridley -- for their continued efforts at adapting to our new more complicated, though more responsible waste streams.
- Our larger Cheverus community recycled over 400 pounds of Christmas lights.
- In the classroom, theology students are taking on at least one challenge per month; likewise they have all become familiar with Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si and his message of humanity’s deep interconnectedness. Many of the challenges get students out in nature and teach them the real human consequences of climate change.
- The new freshmen Global Science course, pioneered by Helene Adams and Erika Rhile, emphasizes environmental stewardship,“citizen scientists,” and the Jesuit principle of Magis. Fifteen students took part in an off-campus summer working retreat led by Sue Van Wyck, Mary King and Cicy Po that focussed on ecology and sustainable action at our school.
- This year’s Maine State Science Fair proposals by Cheverus students include work on ocean acidification, biodegradable plastics, wind turbine design and on how social habits impact our response to climate change.
- Teachers have introduced various texts and articles to integrate environmental justice into their curriculum. Dan LaVallee cites that some members of the math team have used climate change as a backdrop for math problems.
- Beth Coates has introduced Silent Spring.
- Fernanda Darrow has incorporated environmental justice into her AP Spanish curriculum.
- And perhaps most importantly our faculty, staff and students have remodeled their lifestyle choices and priorities in response to an awakened understanding of harmonious living on a shared Earth.
- It should be recognized that the ICC has been well supported by two year’s worth of community focus and community-wide reads of Parched and Salt to the Sea, thanks to the work of Jane Glass and Helene Adams.
These school-wide mission-driven efforts have given classroom teachers common reference points to develop empathy, compassion and agency amongst our students. Our work towards sustainability has promoted discourse and a robust exchange of ideas. This engagement with each other is the most important result of the work. At this mid-year point,we hope to inspire the Cheverus community to take measure of the progress we have made and the progress we wish to make in the future.
We realize that there are many others who are not named.
Thank you for all of your contributions towards our shared mission!
* Thus far, the analysis has examined multiple rooftop and ground level sites both on the Ocean Avenue and Washington Avenue campuses. The most viable site at this stage of the analysis appears to be the rooftop of the Keegan Gymnasium and a roof replacement estimate has been sought from multiple vendors to ascertain the cost of replacing the existing 11-year old roof prior to the installation of a solar array as opposed to after the array is installed and the roof nears the end of its useful life.