Field Trip: Clermont NE school district students learn green lessons in their own backyard

BATAVIA, Ohio - Teachers around the Tri-State use innovative and creative means to engage their students and instill a love of learning. With our "Field Trip" series, we head back to school for a lesson in what works in classrooms today.

Fourth-grade teacher Rachel Wood has spent the past two school years trying to make Clermont Northeastern (CNE) School District a little it greener while saving some green.

“We’re constantly facing a funding issue. Our district is very small, population-wise, and the state funding formula doesn’t really help us,” Wood said.

District staff and faculty must think of creative ways and grants to fund their schools, she said.

Clean and Green

May 3 marked the district’s transformation through hands-on conservation with the second annual Clean and Green. More than 60 students, parents, educators and community members helped clean up and beautify the K-12 campus.

During the event, volunteers picked up litter, cleared trees from a nature trail, boxed in flower beds, planted flower seeds and mulched around buildings.

“It made me feel better because we were helping the schools,” said fourth-grader Madison Cruey, who helped box-in flower beds, plant flowers and trim bushes.

Kentin Nichols, also in fourth grade, pulled weeds and mulched with his mother.

“It made me feel really good,” he said.

Wood, who organized the event both years, said increased awareness encouraged more community involvement this year. Mulch and lumber donations from local businesses were especially helpful.

“We got more accomplished than last year,” she added.

Everyday conservation

Clean and Green is just one of many ways Wood teaches students about conservation and the environment. Composting has been a part of elementary students’ daily lunch routine since a grant from Duke Energy helped school officials purchase compost tumblers last school year.

When students are finished with their lunches, they use the “Tap 'n Stack” method , clearing compostable waste off their disposable Styrofoam trays and stacking them. At the end of the meal time, a group of students collect the compost from bins and put it in the tumblers (pictured below).

“I really, really like composting. It’s really fun to do,” said fourth-grader Jordan Morningstar.

Once the compost is broken down, it is used in the school’s vegetable and flower gardens. Adding the gardens was a natural next step in the conservation process, “to show students how their food (waste) can grow food for them to eat,” Wood said.

Reducing waste has allowed school officials to add a recycling dumpster. Once a week cardboard and paper products are collected from classrooms and taken to the recycling dumpster.

“We’re trying to make our schools a little greener all around,” Wood said.

Small district, big ideas

CNE is one of three schools that make up the Clermont Northeastern School District. The building shares a campus with the district’s middle and high schools, about two miles north of Batavia and two miles east of Owensville. 

The district, which covers almost 80 square miles in Clermont and Brown counties, is the largest land district in Clermont County. Students come from multiple communities:

  • Batavia
  • Williamsburg
  • Newtonsville
  • Owensville
  • Milford

Despite its size in miles, the district’s student population is fairly small--at 1,563. Of those students, 690 are enrolled at the elementary school.

In 2010, the elementary school received a Blue Ribbon School designation from the U.S. Department of Education. The national designation is based on a combination of population and achievement. While population was a factor in the elementary school’s award, it can pose challenges for the district.

Learning lessons

In addition to helping the district monetarily, Wood’s efforts have provided ample learning opportunities. When students recycle and compost, they become more aware of their environment and conservation, she said. Older students learn to lead by example and teach younger students how to improve the environment as well.

“The fourth and fifth-grade students are the stewards of the school,” Wood said.

The gardens also provide a place for learning.Teachers can buy their own garden plots, which some have used do students can plant and watch bulbs as they grow, or perform experiments to see which environments help plants grow best.

While Clean and Green was an event for the whole community, it also provided learning lessons about giving back and taking ownership and pride in their school buildings, Wood said.

What’s next?

Funding from grants, teachers buying garden plots, and donations have helped grow and improve on conservation efforts at Clermont Northeastern Elementary. According to Wood, the improvements are not expected to end any time soon.

“I’m hoping we can add a little bit more every year,” she said.

The goal for the 2014-2015

school year is to create an outdoor classroom space near the gardens and a small wooded area. The space would have seating for students and a place for lesson materials. The space would allow students to feel comfortable explore or watch birds, while staying close to the school building.

  • Got a tip for us about an awesome K-12 school, summer program or summer camp? Email Community Editor Holly Edgell:

Connect with WCPO Contributor Roxanna Swift on Twitter: @r0xiehart .

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