SHAKER HEIGHTS, Ohio — As part of our Planet CLE initiative, we love nothing better than shining a light on communities and organizations going the extra mile to be kind to the earth.
Today that honor, goes to a local K-8 Catholic school.
St. Dominic School in Shaker Heights received national recognition for its environmental efforts, with the U.S. Department of Education naming it a "Green Ribbon School" for 2022. The achievement is no easy feat.
St. Dominic launched its "Caring for God's Creation" initiative back in 2016. Students and staff were inspired by "Laudato si'," an encyclical published by Pope Francis the previous year calling on all followers to practice better care for our environment.
"It was a wakeup call for us about how we as a school can do a better job of taking care of the earth and that we're all responsible for taking care of the earth," Principal Maureen Covington said.
The changes were gradual and didn't happen immediately, but the progress made is remarkable. The school got an energy audit and put in LED lighting, and also improved recycling practices — everything from paper to crayons to old markers.
"We go around the school and pick up markers — markers that have been dried out — and we recycle them," Hannah Deshpande, a member of St. Dominic's Earth's Ambassador Club, explained. "And then we also go around and get paper that we can recycle, too."
Inside the school, you'll now find refillable water bottle stations instead of outdated water fountains, with students bring reusable water bottles each day. Additionally, school lunches include at least 25% locally grown and produced foods.
One more thing: The school encourages use of its uniform exchange, so clothing is re-used rather than discarded. And in the cafeteria, you won't find single-use flatware, cups, straws, or trays, but you will find a composting station.
"We partnered with Rust Belt Riders, which is a local company that collects composted food and they use it to provide soil and nutrients to gardens," Covington said. "So, we have a bucket downstairs in our cafeteria, and when the kids finish their lunches, anything that is compostable and hasn't been eaten goes in the bucket.
Make no mistake — the administration and staff support the green initiative, but it is driven by the students. The Earth Ambassadors Club also leads the way, supporting efforts not just at school, but carrying the message home, as well.
"During Christmas, I convinced my family to not get any wrapping that is fuzzy or metallic or like really shiny, because those can't be recycled," Earth Ambassador Ella McQuinn told us. "They have, like, a hard time decomposing."
Becoming a Green Ribbon School was not part of the original plan, but a happy byproduct of the work put in.
"You have to meet all of these different pillars of the process and show ways that your school is trying to be a more sustainable building and also encouraging environmental education for students," Covington said.
And last year, the DOE bestowed the honor on St. Dominic for excellence in health, wellness, environmental and sustainability education. It is the only Ohio school in 2022 to receive the recognition, but they hope to share it with other schools going forward.
"Look at the practices that you already have in place and think about ways that you can grow and really make it as student-centered as possible," Covington recommended to other schools in the area. "It should be driven by what the students are learning and how they are actually helping with this, because it's going to be their generation that can make this change."