School makes environment its primary focus


St. Monica Academy is so environmentally-innovative that it's on track to become a model for other institutions across the country. Some students there are keeping a worm bin. The worms eat food scraps and in return, produce a nutrient-rich additive for the soil. Some of that compost is then used as older students plant gardens on the grounds.

Ray Coleman , principal of the school, said "The one thing that is important is that we have a solid curriculum and that is starting really from the ground up with the composting."

St. Monica Academy is the first Chicago Archdiocese school to be designated "green." in addition, to making property changes, like adding solar panels, the school partnered with the Chicago Botanical Garden to create a curriculum with an environmental focus.

"The idea is to incorporate all of the different kinds of content: science and math and social studies and language skills in a context of solving an environmental issue," explained Jennifer Schwarz Ballard of The Center for Teaching and Learning at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Much of the curriculum is project-based -- so students get hands-on lessons. They even learn while they lunch.

"We purchased as a school litterless lunch kits and in that kit we have everything and there really is no garbage produced other than food that's not eaten," said Coleman.

Students recycle their own lunch kits, use natural products and cloth towels to clean and compost any food that's left.

Fifth-grader Ben Ranft helps keep up the composting. "We put the fruits and vegetables from the lunch periods and we dump them in the first bin," Ranft said, "and we lay hay over them and over time it will decompose."

Ranft's classmate, fifth-grader Mary Kate Hogan says she understands the importance of the project. "We do it so we can make some more soil and plant some more stuff!"

This is the school's first year implementing the full environmental curriculum. The Chicago Botanic Garden expects to duplicate the curriculum and use it in other schools as soon as next year. They say they have already received calls from schools as far away as Philadelphia.

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