Middle and High School students challenge selves and community to be SMART

Char-Koosta News 

POLSON – Students and staff at Polson Middle and High Schools entered a recycling challenge over the past school year. Aside from everyone putting conscious effort into disposing their trash, cafeteria staff added extra duties to their daily regimen collecting compost (uneaten food) and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ Natural Resource Department collected and delivered the recyclables to the Lake County Transfer Station (The Recycling Terminal). 

Special Education Instructor and “Eagles Group” leader Amy Williams (Ojibwe) said the project was a collective effort. “All it takes is for each one of us to be a little more mindful and it can make a difference,” she said. “This project started out as a recycling challenge and as it evolved we were able to work with other organizations and individuals who had the same goals. This grew into a team effort and it wouldn’t have been possible without everyone who contributed.”

The collective effort paid off. The schools recycled over 16,000 pounds of combined materials and over 1,600 pounds of compost. The project earned both schools titles in the annual SMART Schools Challenge. The statewide competition challenges 48 schools to save money and resources by implementing green practices in their district. Polson Middle and High Schools were two of 13 selected for 2019 and each received a $1,000 prize.

Aside from recognition and cash prizes, the schools also earned an award, which was delivered to the school by Montana’s Lieutenant Governor Mike Cooney. “The schools’ recycling project is impressive,” he said. “It’s great to see the kids take interest in recycling because the climate is changing. Seeing projects like this throughout the state gives me hope that the young people will figure it out and make the world a better place.”

The schools’ “green” work didn’t end with its recycling project; a garden was also added to the Middle School campus and Williams invited Selis Qlispe Culture Committee Director Tony Incashola to offer a prayer and join Cooney in planting bitterroot in the garden. “What you are doing is remarkable,” Incashola said. “Taking care of our environment is an important part of our way of life as Native people. If we can learn to value the earth when we’re young, we’ll carry that throughout our life and hopefully pass it on to the next generation.”

Incashola gave a cultural perspective on the Indigenous plant. “Bitterroot is a gift from the Creator and it was put here to not only be eaten but to be taken care of and respected,” he said. “Like everything on earth, if you don’t respect it, it will go away. All living things are equal and each has a purpose. As people, we only take what we need and leave the rest for the next year or for future generations. We honor Bitterroot with a ceremony and a feast; it’s the first plant to grow of the season. As you look at the earth, look at its great purpose. Continue doing what you’re doing, you are the next leaders.”

For more information on the SMART School Challenge, Visit: http://deq.mt.gov/Energy/eec/smartschools

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