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Catholic Schools Care for Creation

In response to Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne's call for a Year of Creation focused on Pope Francis’ encyclical, “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home," Catholic schools in Vermont immediately sprang to action planning a statewide day of creation education, action and prayer. On April 12, each Catholic school participated in Catholic Schools Care for Creation Day. Initiatives included immediate tasks and long-term projects.
 
Responding to the call to care for creation is part of the Catholic schools’ mission “to instill faith values in students and to create a desire to make a positive difference in the world.” Some schools began the day of service with Mass or another form of prayer. Others read and reflected upon quotes from “Laudato Si’” throughout the day. It was important for students to understand that this day wasn’t just in service to the world, but to their neighbors and to God as well.
 
“Care for creation is a matter of social justice because the ones who are most affected by pollution and climate change are the poor of the world,” Bishop Coyne said. “I hope many Catholics will take advantage of the opportunities being offered throughout the diocese to celebrate this Year of Creation.”
 
Vermont Catholic schools emphatically embraced the opportunity to spend some extra time beholding God’s creation and ensuring that it remains bountiful for generations to come.
 
Read about each school’s Care for Creation Day projects below. For more about the Year of Creation: vermontcatholic.org/yearofcreation.
 
Students at St. Monica-St. Michael School in Barre learned about reusing and recycling materials with an eco-fashion show, where students designed and modeled clothing creations made from materials found in recycle bins. As part of an ongoing project, students planted seeds in recyclable containers that will later be transferred to the school garden. Once in the earth, the seedlings will grow into food that sustains bodies. Students and their families share in the cultivation, growth, harvest and consumption.
 
Students at The School of Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales in Bennington used old newspapers to create biodegradable flower vases. The potted plants will be gifted to elderly individuals in the area and can be placed directly into the ground.
 
Everyone who attends St. Michael School in Brattleboro was encouraged to use sustainable transportation on April 12. Many walked, biked or carpooled to school. Members of the school community worked together on waste reduction strategies that could be implemented, with specific grades focusing on recycling and compost efficiency. Other grades focused on area beautification with litter pick-up and gardening. Others created an awareness and education bulletin board for visitors and as a reminder for everyone at the school.
 
Each classroom at The Bishop John A. Marshall School in Morrisville has prominent recycle and compost bins with a smaller trash bin alongside them. The school no longer provides single-use plastic straws or water bottles. There are water-bottle filling stations for reusable water bottles. Lunch trays are biodegradable. All of this is part of the school’s ongoing sustainability efforts.
 
Students at Christ the King School in Rutland led a prayer service designed to help people understand how they can contribute to ecological justice. Throughout the year, students will work with Marble Valley Grows to plant a garden and participate in tastings to promote the Farm to School programs. They will also learn about and begin a composting program for the lunch room.
 
Students at Christ the King School in Burlington and Mount St. Joseph Academy in Rutland spent their mornings cleaning up local parks and beautifying creation for area residents to enjoy.
 
Good Shepherd Catholic School in St. Johnsbury recently received a grant that allows them to begin construction on an outdoor nature classroom. After “greening up” the local area on April 12, students and staff gathered in the gym to plant seeds. Later in the spring, flower seedlings will be donated to the local eldercare home and vegetable seedlings to the community garden. Some of each will be reserved to plant in the outdoor nature classroom upon its completion.
 
Students at Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington helped to return the local ecosystem to balance by removing invasive species from a trail on school grounds and cultivating the land for new growth. Money collected from a dress-down day on the April 12 was donated to Pure Water for the World, a Rutland-based non-profit dedicated to sustainable, safe water solutions.
 
At St. Francis Xavier School in Winooski, students learned about the impact of separating food waste and began implementing a compost program in their cafeteria and classrooms.
 
  • Published in Schools

Every day is Earth Day at Bishop Marshall School

Earth Day 2017 will be observed throughout the world on April 22, but for the students, faculty and staff at The Bishop John A. Marshall School in Morrisville, every school day is Earth Day.
 
That’s because they have taken seriously their responsibility to care for the Earth and have, over the past couple of years, significantly increased their reduce, reuse and recycle efforts and added composting to their mix of care-of-the-Earth endeavors.
 
Two years ago Bishop Marshall School conducted its first trash audit. “We safely sorted and weighed the cafeteria and kitchen trash as well as trash from three classrooms, separating food scraps, trash, compost items and recyclables. As you can imagine, this task was not fun, but it was necessary,” commented Heather Gentle, food services director.
 
Only 1 percent of what was thrown away was recycled; nothing was composted.
 
“It was time for a new plan for the 2015-16 school year,” Gentle said. So with the help of the fifth-grade class, the school joined the Teens Reaching Youth Team through the 4-H Teen and Leadership Program and the Lamoille Regional Solid
Waste Management District.
 
Now all classrooms have compost and recycle bins and smaller trash baskets, and students are instructed in separating waste into compost, recycle and trash; older students help younger ones sort in the lunchroom.
 
The fourth and fifth graders take turns collecting the classroom compost bins and empty them into the main compost. They then rinse them and return them to classrooms.
 
Fifth grader Augustine Wright, 10, said it can be unpleasant to scrape food out of the compost bin with his gloved hand, but he does it “because I’m helping the environment.”
 
The school no longer provides straws because they are a single use item that remains in the landfill and no longer sells plastic water bottles, thanks to a donation of two water fountains that fill reusable water bottles. Cafeteria trays are disposable and compostable.
 
All of these efforts would not be successful without “the complete cooperation of teachers and students,” said Carrie Wilson, head of school for the 137-student prekindergarten through grade eight school.
 
No audit has been done this year, but she said the school is “in a position” to rent only one of its two dumpsters for trash. “I want to give the project two years to be sure we have sustainable results.”
 
She said the new ways of disposing of waste are easy to implement; it just takes “retraining your brain” to sort rather than dump everything in the rubbish. “We’re trying to instill [in students] that habit of mindfulness.”
 
“This is something we want to be part of to help the environment be healthier,” said Maddy Ziminsky, 13, a seventh grader. “Sometimes we teach our parents and can influence them to make good decisions” about composting and recycling.
 
As part of their religion and technology classes, seventh and eighth graders will be creating an Earth Day video to show what the school has done to promote care of the Earth and to serve as a guide for others. It will be available on the school website and at vermontcatholic.org.
 
“We are charged to be good stewards of the environment,” Wilson said. “We want to send our children into the world with a strong faith foundation to be good citizens and to take care of the world.”
 
Earth Day, celebrated in more than 193 countries, is observed annually on April 22 to demonstrate and promote environmental awareness and call for the protection of the Earth. 

This story was published originally in the spring issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.
 
  • Published in Schools
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