Ask Eartha: Learning about the environment doesn’t stop at home |

Ask Eartha: Learning about the environment doesn’t stop at home

Recycled aluminum sits in a large container at the Summit County Landfill in Dillon, November 2017.
Hugh Carey /

Dear Eartha,

I try to teach my children environmental ethics and want to see the same ideas reflected in school. How can schools help develop the next generation of environmental leaders?

— Carlos, Breckenridge

Carlos, as a mother with kids in school, it is so wonderful to hear from other Summit County parents who want to instill a culture of environmental curiosity and care in our youth. At home, we parents can set good examples, but we don’t have as much control when the kiddos are at school. Childhood experiences are vitally important for developing values, and for this reason, it’s crucial that sustainable behavior is ingrained not only at home but also at school.

Luckily, High Country Conservation Center has a great partnership with Summit School District and the Peak School, providing in-school lessons, volunteer opportunities and special presentations. Whether in elementary, middle or high school, your child has the chance to learn about growing local food, saving water and energy, and reducing waste.

As an example, during HC3’s newest school program, Rocky’s Recycler’s, students consider the questions, “Where do things come from?” and, “What happens when I throw something away?” Did you know that aluminum comes from bauxite, a clayey rock that contains high amounts of aluminum ore? Summit County’s third-graders do.

HC3 shares samples of bauxite with the students and teaches them about the negative effects of mining this nonrenewable resource. Students are encouraged to consider why humans would continue to dig up new resources if aluminum can be recycled over and over again. Upon completion of the Rocky Recycler’s program, several students pledge to always recycle aluminum cans.

More good news! While you enforce good recycling habits at home, the entire Summit County School District as well as the Peak School offer recycling to students. And thanks to a partnership with Recycle Across America and funding from Subaru, all Summit School District schools have recycling signage designed to help make recycling easier.

Recycle Across America believes that, “One of the best places to help facilitate systemic change in the world is in K-12 schools. Young people are passionate about the planet and with the use of standardized labels on school bins and throughout society, we are making it easier for the next generation to become lifelong proper recyclers.” HC3 also works closely with custodial, kitchen, administrative staff and teachers to help students recycle and compost lunchtime food scraps. As a parent, I totally support this!

Albert Einstein famously said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” With the global community facing complex problems like climate change and water scarcity, and a growing population placing increased demand on natural resources, we need to raise a generation of thinkers equipped to become the innovators, educators, researchers and leaders who can solve these challenges. For this reason, it’s increasingly important that our children gain understanding of the environment, earth systems and society’s impact on the natural world.

Encouraging the development of good environmental citizenship means tasking students to investigate and analyze environmental issues. Then, they must feel empowered to have an impact on these issues by realizing how to change their own behaviors and influence their peers…or even their community!

If your son or daughter is passionate about the environment and wants to share their values and know-how with their peers, encourage them to join or start a green team at their school. Many staff across the district are willing to help students lead by example.

Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at

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