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Students lead the way on sustainability

From left, seventh-grade students Parker Benz, Fin Arthur, Franny Chaffee-McClure and Clare Hansen manage recycling in the cafeteria at St. Agnes School in Roeland Park. The students have come up with several ways to make St. Agnes a more sustainable school. LEAVEN PHOTO BY MOIRA CULLINGS

by Moira Cullings

ROELAND PARK — Their time at St. Agnes School here is running short, but seventh-grade students are taking action to leave the school a better place for future generations.

“It feels good to actually help make a difference in our school,” said Parker Benz, “and make our school a more eco-friendly place.

“Even in what little time we have left at St. Agnes, we know that we’re making a difference.”

Last year, four sixth-graders initiated a recycling program at the school, which started out with them collecting plastic cups from the cafeteria and taking them home to recycle.

This year, they obtained a recycling bin and work hard during lunchtime to ensure the recycling process works efficiently.

“This was something that we realized we could work on together to make a difference,” said Franny Chaffee-McClure. “We thought about what was a big issue that we could [work on] and would be simple and effective.”

Seventh- and eighth-grade students at the school are also working on grant-based proposals, which they will submit to KC Healthy Kids in December, to reduce waste by utilizing reusable utensils in the cafeteria and adding simple recycling bins throughout the school.

Clare Hansen is proud of their efforts, particularly in the cafeteria.

“It shows ambition because we could’ve just left it how it was,” she said. “Or we could’ve just continued on collecting the cups, but we wanted to find a more permanent solution to this.”

The students draw inspiration from a few school subjects.

“Sometimes, in science, we learn about recycling and giving back to the earth,” said Fin Arthur.

“I think the biggest area we touch on this is religion class,” added Franny.

“God gave us this, and so [we discuss] what can we do to give back to future generations,” she said.

Students at St. Michael the Archangel in Leawood are also striving to create a more sustainable environment at their school.

Fifth-graders approached principal Mike Cullinan with a PowerPoint presentation filled with ideas on how to reduce paper use at St. Michael.

He wasn’t at all surprised by their enthusiasm.

“We work hard to empower the students to recognize problems in society or school and brainstorm ways to effectively address them and make the world a better place,” he said.

The students’ ideas included using more clay in art class, reducing the number of notebooks required in school supplies and encouraging students to write down only the highlights when taking notes.

Cullinan emphasized the importance of offering students ways to express themselves on issues they’re passionate about.

“If we give them a voice in school, they will have the confidence to share ideas about improving the greater good in society,” he said.

“When we have a food drive,” he explained, “we talk about bringing food to school for Catholic Charities because people are hungry.

“Then we take it an extra step and introduce Catholic social justice teaching by asking them to brainstorm the question, ‘Why are people hungry in the first place?’ And, ‘What can we do as responsible Catholic citizens to help change that?’”

St. Agnes principal Jane Sullivan explained that putting ideas into action and finding permanent solutions to problems are the biggest challenges her students face.

“We talk a lot about it,” she said, we want to do it. But then, after the energy of the excitement of the beginning of the program, that’s where we get frustrated.

“That’s a challenge I put to these four [students] — to say, ‘What do I do after you graduate?’”

Fin said he and his peers are up for the task.

“It’s really great because even with how many challenges we’ve faced when trying to do this, we’ve gotten through a lot of them,” he said.

Their determination inspires Sullivan to help them go further.

“I know that sometimes I like to almost give them a little bit of a challenge, to say, ‘I’m not sure we can do that,’ because I want to see if their hearts [are] into it and if they really want this,” she said.

So far, their zeal hasn’t let her down. 

“I couldn’t be more proud,” she said.

About the author

Moira Cullings

Moira attended St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park and Benedictine College in Atchison. She majored in marketing, minored in psychology and played center midfield for the women’s soccer team. Moira joined The Leaven staff as a feature writer and social media editor in 2015. After a move to Denver, Moira resumed her full-time position at The Leaven and continues to write and manage its website, social media channels. Her favorite assignment was traveling to the Holy Land to take photos for a group pilgrimage in 2019.

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