Green Pease

My name is Julien, and I’m a fifth-grader at Pease Elementary. I recently interviewed our principal, Mr. Matthew Nelson, because I wanted to know if we were doing anything “green” (e.g., helping to preserve the environment, using sustainable practices, etc.) at Pease. We met at the school library, just before school started, so that I could ask him a few questions.

I started by asking Mr. Nelson to tell me a little bit about himself, and I was surprised to learn that he was diagnosed with dysgraphia just like me! Dysgraphia means that you have a hard time writing and organizing your thoughts while writing. He said that as a kid, he failed many of his classes because his teachers couldn’t read his handwriting—even though he wrote good, imaginative papers. After lots of hard work, though, Mr. Nelson became a teacher to help all kids realize their potential. Now, he’s the principal of my school and this is his second year.

Next, I asked, “Are you trying to make Pease a greener school?” and he said, “AB-SO-LUTE-LY!” 

“Pease Elementary,” he continued, “has the potential to become the greenest campus in all of AISD. We’re big on composting and recycling; we’re one of the few campuses that have the students sort their own food trays, because we know it’s important to teach children why and how to compost and recycle. Our compost and recycling bins are being picked up once a week, and our landfill [bin] only has to be picked up once every three weeks. This is a real benefit to the community since we’re not dumping so much trash into the public landfill.”

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Mr. Nelson said we are also trying to cut down on food waste by having recess before lunch. “When the students have recess before lunch, they run around and get really hungry,” he said. “Then, when they come in for lunch, they have to refuel all the energy they expended and they eat more food and waste less.”

We also talked about the two rain-capture barrels at Pease that are used to collect rainwater from the gym roof, the new water fountains we’ll soon have that will help students save water by filling up water bottles and the proposal we’re writing to get solar panels installed so that students can see how to harvest energy from the sun. And we talked about our super-cool PAWS gardens. PAWS stands for “Pease Adventures in Wildlife Sciences” and it’s a unique project where kids get to work outside and conduct science labs in the outdoor classroom.

And amazingly and awesomely, we’re also installing an apiary—that means beehives. There will be two wooden boxes, 3 feet tall by 2 feet wide, and inside each will be a large honeycomb with 5,000 bees. The boxes will be set up on pedestals on Pease property and surrounded by a fence. The bees will be docile varieties—they’ll bump you and avoid stinging you, because if they sting you, they’ll die. The bees will go to Shoal Creek to get water, and they’ll pollinate flowers in our gardens and in gardens across the street. We’re going to harvest the honey and sell it, and make lip balm out of the wax. 

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I then asked Mr. Nelson if there had been any changes in the cafeteria food since he’s been at Pease. “We’ve been working with AISD to make the food healthier and still taste good,” he said. “When I started in AISD twelve years ago, the food tasted good, but was not very healthy. Since then, it’s gotten healthy, but the kids didn’t like the way it tasted. Now, we are working on making it taste good AND be healthy. Pease is AISD’s test kitchen,” he continued. “When food service wants to try out a new food or a new recipe, they try it out here, and if the kids like it, then it is used at the schools in Austin. Last year, AISD wanted to try a broccoli-and-cheese quiche. Our students, parents and teachers tried the quiche, everyone liked it, so now it’s on the menu at all of the AISD schools.”

At the end of our interview, Mr. Nelson noted that all of these efforts require a community. The teachers have all been on board helping to make the kids aware of why it’s important to reduce waste, preserve the environment and save our resources. And parents are doing whatever they can to make the school successful—some give money and others give time. Some parents volunteer ideas; for example, the bees were a parent’s idea, as were the rain-capture barrels. Finally, I asked Mr. Nelson what he hopes the kids at Pease will get from these programs. “We are producing future doctors, lawyers, architects and video game programmers,” he said. “They are all being made here, right in this little school. Our goal is to grow students to be environmentally conscious and to realize that they are citizens of Austin, the United States and the Earth—that their place on Earth is bigger than their place at Pease.” 

This made me feel really lucky to be a Pease student.