We want to do everything we can to reduce our ecological footprint,’" said Margo Bader, explaining why the Gerrard Berman Day School, Solomon Schechter of North Jersey, chose to install solar panels on the roof of its Oakland building.
Now ending her two-year term as school president, the Mahwah resident said that while the school has been "environmentally conscious" since its founding, this is the "first physical manifestation" of that commitment.
"We wanted to be real-life examples to the kids," she said. "It’s a great way to show that we, as a small school, can still make an impact."
Bader explained that the school does not own the solar panels, but buys the power they generate. She said she does not know of any other local schools that have installed such panels.
She attributed the board’s decision to increasing awareness of environmental issues and a desire to coordinate its actions with what the children are learning in school, and added that by trying to "contribute to the environmental health of our local area and that of the whole world, we show the kids that it’s real, that they can do something, too."
Amy Glazer, the community relations director for the school, said that it is trying to encourage students to become more concerned about the environment and is stressing the phrase "reduce, reuse, and recyle." "We want them to know that there are limited resources and understand the concept of sustainability," she said.
According to Glazer, the school will undertake a strict recycling program next year, with each class having different-colored bins for recycling. In addition, she said, "We are moving to become paper-free." While the school has spent the year easing into this commitment, its newsletter is now distributed by e-mail, and correspondence with parents will soon be sent that way as well.
"We’re also encouraging parents to pack lunches in reusable containers," said Glazer.
Third-grade teacher Sarah Zonenshine reported that a February unit on wildlife evolved into a discussion about endangered animals, with students demanding to know how they could help save rainforests and the animals that live there.
"They wanted to know why the animals were endangered," she said, adding that they took on independent research to find out more about the problem and come up with ways to help. According to Zonenshine, students decided to raise money by holding a bake sale.
"They collected over $100," she said, explaining that the money was given to the National Arbor Day Foundation and that students subsequently wrote about their efforts for a school publication. In addition, the children prepared PowerPoint presentations focusing on different endangered animals, with voice-overs explaining the plight of each creature.
Two weeks ago, the youngsters visited a private estate in West Milford "to see firsthand how someone is trying to save the environment," she said. Wildlife roams freely there and the lake is filled with fish.
Science teacher Haim Rosenstein said his fourth- to eighth-graders "definitely understand" the need to preserve the environment.
"I encourage them to think about [these issues] and try to come up with solutions," he said, adding that the students are very aware of the problems and take them seriously. "These problems will be even more serious in their generation," he said, pointing out that students have suggested solutions such as hybrid cars, increased use of public transportation, and strict recycling. "They go home and talk to their parents about it," he said.
Rosenstein said his sixth-graders participate in "Teva," a one-week program at a camp in Connecticut in which students focus on environmental science. During the week, the youngsters discuss environmental issues, undertake related activities, and then bring back their projects to continue at school.
The science teacher noted that sixth-graders spend two-thirds of the school year studying "hands-on environmental science." Students build an ecocolumn combining an aquarium and a terrarium, filling it with plants and animals and exploring the effects of certain substances on the fragile environmental system they have created.
"We experiment to see the effects of pollutants," said Rosenstein, explaining that the youngsters introduce elements such as fertilizer and acid rain into their ecosystem to see how they affect the soil, plants, and animals. In yet another project, the students are working in teams to "solve the pollution problems" of Chesapeake Bay, viewing the problem from the vantage point of farmers, milk producers, and fishermen.
In the upper grades, the students, who recently viewed and discussed former Vice President Al Gore’s movie "An Inconvenient Truth," tackle the issue of energy sources, whether fossil fuels or nuclear power, said Rosenstein.