West Roxbury Teachers and Students on a Green Mission

By Gretchen O’Neill
As published in The West Roxbury Transcript
Thursday, February 25, 2010

In their classrooms at Boston Public Schools’ West Roxbury Education Complex, Mary Grady and Paige Zinzella are on a mission: to raise the awareness of their students about the importance of recycling and conservation of natural resources. And the kids are into it in a big way.

“We watched ‘The Story of Stuff’,” said Grady, who teaches world history and literature at Brook Farm Business & Service Career Academy, one of four small high schools in the former West Roxbury High School building.

“Did you know that 99 percent of the stuff we buy is in a landfill within six months?” Grady has asked her students.

Her students are now drinking more water from reusable water bottles, and two are petitioning to bring a paper recycling Dumpster back to the school. Grady also plans to start a “green” pen pals exchange with students in China as a forum for her classes to compare U.S. and Chinese policies around climate change, water usage, and who should pay for environmental cleanup and new green-energy technology.

Upstairs in Parkway Academy of Technology and Health, Zinzella and her students are also focusing on recycling and the environment.

“The school doesn’t have recycling bins, but teachers in all the [WREC] schools are really committed to recycling and take home as much paper and other recyclables as they can carry,” she said. “It should be easier.” She is hoping to do a fundraiser with her students to buy recycle bins for every classroom so the kids will take ownership of school-based recycling.

Paige, who teaches forensics, biotech, health professions and biology, has also developed a new conservation elective — the first at PATH — that will launch this month. The curriculum will cover water, air and land pollution, conservation of natural resources, and development of renewable resources. By raising awareness of these issues, she hopes her students will make “green” habits part of their lifestyle.

Both these high-energy, young teachers agree that the challenges are many, from lack of time and financial resources to provisions of the Boston Public Schools custodians’ contract. Both wish they could do more. But even if they can’t change the world, they are determined to lead the way toward greener practices at WREC — and to inspire and empower their students to be part of the solution to the challenges of environmental protection.