Sustainable Missoula: Franklin School fifth-graders thrive in Zero Waste classroom

Kim Johnson

My name is Kim Johnson and my team teacher Rae Baerlocher and I are starting our second year team-teaching a Zero Waste classroom at Franklin Elementary School in Missoula.

Our fifth-grade program has had the benefit of starting just as the school itself opened the doors to a new building. Rae and I realized we could get staff members, teachers and students on a green path by making small but impactful changes to the way our classroom was designed.

For example, we asked that paper towel dispensers not be installed in our room, and asked the school’s kitchen to not drop off paper napkins or plastic cutlery in the morning with breakfast. Instead, our classroom uses cloth napkins along with silverware that the students take turns washing. By being intentional and consistent, it did not take long before we began to see results. We loved the end of the school day, when we would see garbage cans nearly empty.

We have worked with several outside partners as well, such as Missoula Compost, which donated a year of free compost pick up for the classroom last year. We also worked with a professor at the University of Montana who offered to pick up bags of the crinkly candy wrapper type paper (which can’t be recycled) every month, as one of his students is experimenting on how to recycle that material. Another valuable connection for our classroom has been Home ReSource.

Since 2016, their Zero Waste Ambassadors Program (ZWAP!)has worked to educate Missoula fifth-graders about materials, where they come from, and how their choices can make a big difference toward reducing waste. We were lucky to be one of the first classes to join their yearly cohort.

Through our partnership with Home ReSource, our school has benefitted in many ways. We were also given a voice on the Zero Waste Advisory Committee for the Missoula County Public Schools’ Zero Waste planning process earlier this year. Once we began to reach out and let people know what we were doing, all kinds of people wanted to work with us. This has helped us maintain our commitment to creating a Zero Waste classroom as we want to show others it can be done.

Both Rae and I are strong proponents of working to make our school and community greener places to work, learn and live. We feel fortunate that our school district and so many other Missoula organizations are making real investments in terms of specific and ongoing efforts. We have found that an ecology and recycling curriculum spreads itself beyond the classroom, into the students’ homes and even in the way they interact with adults and their peers. By last spring, our students were even challenging each other to bring Zero Waste lunches for field trips!

We have all seen many, many attempts to reduce waste and/or to recycle, but we have seen many of these efforts fail because they were only about conveying information. We think we have made so much progress with our students because we are actively teaching them about the what, the why, and the how of reducing waste. We know that powerful learning takes place when students see clear connections to the world outside the classroom.

We saw very positive results in the first year and can’t wait to see what we can accomplish in this school year.

Kim Johnson is a fifth-grade teacher and the International Baccalaureate (I.B.) Coordinator at Franklin Elementary School in Missoula. She began teaching in 1989 and throughout her educational career has worked as principal and district administrator. Her Zero Waste classroom has been lauded in The Missoulianand Education Dive.

Upcoming Sustainability Events:

September 7: MUD’s annual Garden Party, Missoula Urban Demonstration Project, 6:00-10:00 p.m.

September 8: Watershed Education Network‘s stream monitoring training (Free). For more info call 541-9287 or water@montanawatershed.org. 802 E. Front St., Missoula, from 12:00-4:00 p.m.

September 8 & 11:Volunteers needed for Missoula Bike/Pedestrian count. Help the city determine needs and how to improve bike/ped systems. Counts will be Sept 8 noon to 2pm and Sept 11 from 4-6pm (except UM stations will be 3-5pm).

September 9: Missoula People’s Climate March. Anderson Park, south of the Hip Strip on Higgins. 11 a.m. until noon.

September 9: Sunday Streets Missoula. Higgins Street, downtown Missoula. 12:00-4:00 p.m.

September 9-15: Walk and Roll Week in Missoula  celebrate & use sustainable transportation options.

September 15: 14thannual Spontaneous Construction festival of creative reinventionat Home ReSource. Building contest starts at 9 a.m. Kids’ activities and local food start at 11 a.m. Live music all day. Sign up to volunteer. Free admission; building contestants pay a registration fee.