After-school team changing school’s environmental culture

(Calabasas Elementary School students of the Green Team round up trash around their campus. Photo by Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian)

WATSONVILLE — During lunch at Calabasas Elementary School one day, a group of students noticed something that bothered their environmental consciousness.

Every child who got a school lunch – nearly all of the 650 students at the school – received a plastic package with a straw, a napkin and a spork.

To make matters worse, the students are also given snacks wrapped in shiny plastic wrappers.

Much of this, the students noticed, invariably finds its way onto the campus grounds, said fifth-grader Ruby Romero.

Ruby, 11, was inspired to join the school’s Green Team, an after-school club dedicated to cleaning the campus and, by extension, the greater Monterey Bay area.

“We do our best to try and clean our campus and do something to help our community,” she said. “It will help our school and also our community.”

Team member Zeke Pelot, 11, agreed.

“We live on this earth, and who would want to live in a place that’s full of garbage?” he said.


The Green Team is joined by fourth grade teacher Laura Arnow at Calabasas Elementary School. Photo by Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian

The team also surveyed fellow students and determined that few needed all of the accouterments in the utensil package.

They petitioned the district for a change, and now the students that need a plastic utensil can get one out of a dispenser.

The group of 11 kids also spends about 15 minutes every Friday cleaning the campus, an effort that brings in as many as 300 snack wrappers.

The hardest part for Ivan Ramirez, 9, has been trying to convince his peers to stop the littering.

“I tell them it could end up in the ocean and affect the wildlife,” he said.

As part of those efforts, the students produced a video for their fellow students.

At the end of it all, the team counted the wrappers and saw an 18 percent reduction.

That number still fluctuated, but the impact was no less real for the team.

“We felt like we did something helpful to our school and our environment,” Ruby said.

The team brought the project to the Ocean Plastic Pollution Symposium at the Monterey Bay Aquarium at the end of April, an event attended by 300 students from 43 schools through California.

All of these were there to display their own projects designed to keep trash from entering the ocean.

“They have had an amazing impact on the school,” said fourth-grade teacher and team advisor Laura Arnow. “They are quite an impressive bunch.”

The students are now applying for a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, with which they would purchase additional trashcans for their school.

A separate grant from that organization allowed the school to get a water bottle filling station, the better to reduce the number of plastic water bottles that find their way into landfills.

The group also hopes to establish a compost pile in the school’s garden.

Andy Garcia-Ruiz, 9, said the lessons he has learned in class drove him to the club. He explained that some plastic finds its way to the ocean, where it can sicken sea turtles that mistake it for food.

Andre Reyna, 10, agreed, and said the sheer amount of trash has been disheartening,

“It’s pretty sad, because the ocean is pretty disgusting,” he said.


To see the Calabasas Green Team’s video, visit


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