Gaiser Middle School, green, NJHS

Pictured above: Gaiser NJHS members display their Washington Green Schools banner and awards. Photos by Karina Tobin.

With apologies to Kermit the Frog: It’s not easy being green. But Gaiser Middle School makes it seem effortless with its multifaceted approach to protecting the environment and increasing student and staff member well-being.

The move toward greater environmental consciousness and preservation began in 2009, in an area near the school that was clogged with blackberry bushes. After removal of the bushes, students planted native trees, grasses and roses in what is now called Gaiser Pond, an ongoing living lab.

Efforts to conserve natural resources expanded in subsequent years to include initiatives such as compost bins in the cafeteria that encourage smarter food scrap disposal and a student-led study of vehicle idling that led to a no-idling policy on school grounds. Low-flow water fixtures, native drought-tolerant plants and minimal landscape irrigation, paired with water monitoring, have led to significant reductions in usage.

This year, the eighth-graders in Gaiser’s current National Junior Honor Society took on campaigns to increase hand washing and limit energy consumption. The latter was a difficult task.

To structure its focus on energy savings, the NJHS performed extensive research, including an audit of the building, and collaborated with Gaiser’s maintenance team. The NJHS led the entire school in lessening the demand for energy by changing behaviors. Teachers joined in by pledging to be more energy-efficient. As a result, energy and natural gas usage have declined.

Learn more about the teacher behind Gaiser's NJHS, Charlene Shea.

Learn more about the teacher behind Gaiser’s NJHS, Charlene Shea.

NJHS students are vocal advocates for change. “They have amazing ownership of their school and of their civic obligations,” says seventh-grade teacher and NJHS adviser Charlene Shea.

Others have taken notice of Gaiser’s proactive environmental stewardship. The work has garnered a raft of awards for students and staff.

For the past five years, Gaiser has mastered levels of the Washington Green Schools program, which recognizes schools for their environmental efforts. This year, Gaiser became the first middle school in the state to achieve a Level 5 designation. The school also was named a Washington state Green School Leader by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

But awards, while appreciated, aren’t the sole motivating factor for these students, who sacrifice time before and after school and even on some Saturdays to accomplish their goals. Explains one NJHS member, “We like to see how we’ve impacted the school and how we’ve helped make things better for Gaiser.”

“It’s good to start in schools, because as students get older they’ll probably keep on doing those habits,” adds NJHS member Makala Stewart.

According to NJHS President Emily Phelps, sometimes the rewards also can be personal: “We get to help the school, but we still get to be a group together. We just have fun together while serving the school.”

This and other stories originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of Inside Vancouver Public Schools.