Parent organization Green Kids Needham educates every Needham elementary student about the environment, acts as a model for other towns’ environmental education programs.

Three years ago, a group of Needham parents joined together to create Green Kids Needham, hoping to educate elementary school students – and their families – about the environment. At the forefront of the effort was Lisa Gordon, a parent who was struck by the need and importance of environmental education in the Needham school system. Although she had no previous experience working for environmental causes, Gordon felt passionately that early environmental education was critical for the community. She shared her ideas with the Parent Teacher Council, and interested parents began efforts to create the program their children needed. “It’s been a great learning process for me,” Gordon explained. “Creating the program through a parents organization gave us the leeway to create the organization how we wanted it to be.”

Today, Green Kids Needham (a name conceived as an offshoot of Green Needham) operates programs in all Needham elementary schools, including the Saint Joseph School. While based in the schools themselves, the program seeks to reach children and their families beyond the classroom walls. “One thing we really didn’t want to be is preachy. That gets exhausted and ignored. We tried to stay out of the classroom as much as possible,” Gordon said.

To this end, the project coordinators of Green Kids Needham have made efforts to educate parents and families through projects designed to connect what children learn at school with what they do at home. One of the first projects like this enabled every child in the district to take home a reusable grocery bag, enabling children to actively include their families in waste reduction efforts. Other projects have included catalog reduction programs, aimed at reducing paper waste by encouraging children and their families to cancel catalog subscriptions. Gordon is confident that projects like these have made an impact not only on the children in school, but on their parents at home. “Our aim is to educate the parents through educating the kids. Parents bring it to their families, and kids bring it into school; but hopefully kids can also influence their parents based on what they learn with us,” Gordon explained.

The success of the overall program manifests in annual projects such as the NIKE Reuse a Shoe event, during which old sneakers are collected, recycled and used to build playgrounds all over the world. The Needham elementary schools collect between 2-3,000 pairs of shoes each year. Also, a program through the World Wildlife Fund enables Green Kids Needham to adopt an endangered animal each year. “Whatever animal we adopt, that’s the theme we use for the kids that year,” Gordon said, explaining that teaching the children about the animal’s habitat and environment helps to keep them interested in what they can do to help.

A recent grant of $7,500 has allowed more Green Kids programs to be implemented in the Needham schools, and the organization itself is thus able to continue to grow and better its efforts. As project coordinator for the Eliot School, Gordon is interested in creating a model program that can be emulated by other school systems. “I’ve been contacted by many different people in different towns about what we do here in Needham. They want to replicate what we do,” Gordon noted. This July, a group of parents from Wayland, Hopkinton, Newton and other towns will meet to discuss environmental education in their respective school systems. The interest from parents in other school districts is testament to Green Kids’ success, and the need for more support and awareness of its effective programs.

Gordon explained that despite its success, the organization works with no budget, relying on a team of volunteers who help to move the whole project along. Notwithstanding its reliance on donations and volunteer work, Green Kids Needham has grown from a fledgling organization to a successful Needham-wide initiative of education and awareness over the past three years. “Our motto is that small things make a big difference,” Gordon said. “It’s working, so why not try to do the same thing in other towns?”

Green Kids Needham

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