How did you become involved with the Pathways to Green Schools Program and Green Building United?
MT: I officially joined Odyssey Charter in the fall of 2017, the same year we joined the Pathways program and started the inaugural “Green Team”. I previously taught at Conrad Schools of Science for a decade, where I witnessed the positive impact of a school-wide recycling program. I thoroughly enjoy building school programs and have always been a proponent of sustainability and global citizenship. My passion is evident by the coursework that I have taught, including Human Geography, AP Comparative Government and Politics, in addition to my involvement as an adviser in programs like Model United Nations and Youth in Government.
Have you implemented any specific programming that highlights sustainability and nature?
MT: I have led several major initiatives on campus with the critical support of the OCS Green Team and OCS community. One of our initiatives was the Plastic Film Collection during the 2018-2019 school year. Just in the month of February 2019, Kindergarten through 11th grade students collected 32,734 plastic bags, which is roughly 443 pounds of plastic film. In total, we collected 803 pounds of plastic within the school year and won a TREX bench for our efforts!
We learned your 10th grade AP Human Geography class placed second in the Philadelphia Zoo’s UNLESS Contest! Can you tell us more about this?
MT: The goal of the contest is to reduce electricity usage, solve a water problem, or reduce landfill waste in a school or community by taking action. The UNLESS Contest creates awareness in students and inspires solutions and actions to impact the future of wildlife.
My students chose one of the four critically endangered species to be the face of the campaign: Rodrigues Fruit Bats. This was a student-driven and project-based assignment. Our initial goal was modest: to get our communities involved to reduce their human impact on climate change and to keep the Rodrigues Fruit Bat species from going extinct. However, our goal quickly expanded...
In small groups my students conducted research about landfill waste at the local, state and global levels. They also learned about the Rodrigues fruit bat. Students compiled their in-depth research on both landfill waste and Rodrigues fruit bats into short presentations which they presented to different 7th grade classes. Inspired by the presentation, 160 7th grade students wrote letters to both Representative Rochester and Senator Carper, urging them to support federal legislation to protect the environment.
In February, AP Human Geography students led a fundraiser to purchase $500 worth of picture books to educate a 2nd grade class about a variety of sustainability topics. They also made 24 tote bags to encourage the students to use less single-use plastic bags. On March 4, the AP Human Geography students led a school-wide Zero Waste Fair, where over 300 students pledged to not use single-use plastic bags and 1,400 students completed exit tickets detailing what they learned by attending the fair.
Additionally, the AP Human Geography students visited Legislative Hall in Dover, DE to have 30 minute meetings with 15 legislators from all throughout Delaware. Students testified in the House and Senate to urge the passage of the bill that would limit the use of single-use plastic bags. Most recently, HB 130 passed the Senate and will be signed into law by Governor Carney. This will make Delaware the fourth state in the country with a law limiting the usage of single-use plastic bags.
Ultimately, four AP Human Geography students wrote a blog post titled “The Power of Student Voice in Environmental Advocacy” that was published by non-profit Hope Street Group, a non-partisan organization.
Prior to our projects, Odyssey Charter School did not actively recycle nor did the students collect any single-use plastic bags on a large scale. The majority of the students' efforts impacted the more than 2,000 students and staff in our community. The Zero Waste Fair, the reading buddy program, and the presentations to 7th grade students all serve as concrete evidence of their efforts to not only influence their peers, but also significantly younger students.
Can you talk to us about your 5th and 10th graders’ experience testifying in the Delaware House of Representatives in favor of HB130? How did this experience impact them?
MT: This was an incredibly unique opportunity for OCS students to have their voices heard by the people who make real policy in our state. 5th and 10th grade students participated in Governor Carney’s press conference announcing a bill that will greatly reduce the consumption of single-use plastic bags. Through this experience, students have gained a better understanding of recycling and how to reduce their personal use of plastic. Students have also testified in the House Committee of Natural Resources in favor of the bill.
How have your students’ views on sustainability changed as a result of the Pathways program?
MT: As a teacher, I have witnessed the profound impact that this project has had on our school. Students are now starting to actually recycle in the cafeteria. Teachers have shared that the projects have compelled them to think differently about plastic bags, plastic straws, and plastic water bottles.
Students have reflected on the impact that the single-use plastic film campaign has had on them, noting they are now more aware of the benefits of recycling and how to reduce their use of plastic in various ways. They have become critical thinkers about environmental issues and the actions of themselves and others. Several AP Human Geography students have expressed an interest in interning with a legislator and getting involved in environmental campaigns in the state.
In particular, students are changing their lifestyle habits due to increased knowledge. Some students are even leading recycling efforts at home and have asked their parents to recycle regularly and get a recycle bin. Even small actions such as using a reusable water bottle and avoiding plastic bags when shopping are more thought of among students after participating in the campaign.
How has Green Building United’s involvement helped OCS with its efforts?
MT: Green Building United has played an instrumental role in helping OCS develop partnerships with other schools in our state committed to sustainability. For example, four members of our Green Team visited the Jefferson School to learn about their major initiatives on campus such as goats, natural playground, exercise stations, and a vegetable garden. Additionally, the OCS Green Team received $1,920 from DE Green Pathways for equipment to run a Composting Pilot (worm factories, tumblers, and educational tools) to reduce organic food waste and associated GHG emissions from landfills. We also received an energy audit in 2017 from Practical Energy Solutions, and have benefited from informal advice regarding things like how to purchase green cleaning products, etc.
Do you have any other exciting initiatives underway?
MT: We’ve continued to make additional recycling efforts during the 2018-2019 school year.
In addition to these recycling efforts, we’ve worked on our Odyssey Charter School Garden. We recently expanded our garden to 24 raised beds (750 sq. feet), making us one of the largest school gardens in the county. This spring, we grew an assortment of vegetables including turnips, radishes, lettuce, spinach, arugula, carrots, and rainbow chard. We donated 70 percent of our produce to a local food closet to benefit the Wilmington community.
About Melissa Tracy
Melissa is a National Board Certified social studies teacher and high school social studies department chair at Odyssey Charter School. She currently teaches AP Human Geography, world geography, global civics, U.S. History, and food studies. Melissa is highly passionate about civic education, global studies, and ensuring that all students receive a high quality education. She earned a B.A. in history from Tulane University, a M.Ed. in curriculum and instruction (social studies) from the University of Delaware, and a M.A. in United States history at Villanova University.
Melissa was recognized for an award for environmental education efforts in 2019 from the Delaware Association for Environmental Education. She also received the Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship with National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions to travel to the Galapagos this September to study microplastics.