In a bright, third-floor classroom at Marblehead High School, leafy vegetables, tomatoes, cucumbers and herbs are growing in tower gardens – produce that will go to feed students in the cafeteria and cooking classes. Some students even bring it home for dinner.
“We have rainbow chard and Swiss chard, arugula, lettuces, basil, endive,” said Connor Ryan, MHS English teacher and advisor for the local National Green Schools Society chapter.
The four aquaponic gardens, which use only water and artificial sunlight to grow, are just one of many initiatives run by NGSS, which has about 140 student members at Marblehead High. The teens are committed to the environment and sustainability. Many plan to keep up their work after they graduate.
“Our mission is to combat climate change and make Marblehead High a greener place,” said senior Samantha Clock, who is NGSS co-president along with Samantha Genovese, also a senior.
Cleanups, compostable trays and more
NGSS leads several cleanups around Marblehead each month, typically on Thursdays and Saturdays. “The cleanups bring together different groups of people,” Genovese said. “There are sports kids and drama kids. We pick up trash along the bike path, at Seaside and Gatchell’s.”
The students fill four to six large trash bags at each outing and often come across some surprising items.
“We’ve found a garbage disposal, headboard, porch umbrella and old Gatorade bottles dating back to 2006,” Genovese said with a laugh.
NGSS led the campaign for compostable (rather than Styrofoam) lunch trays in the MHS cafeteria, which were adopted in 2019.
“We used to fill 12-13 contractor bags of trash per day at lunch,” said Ryan. “Now it’s down to two bags because we compost the rest.”
NSGG members visited the Veterans School to help students there launch a composting program, too. Veterans, Village and Glover now all use compostable lunch trays, according to Schools Supt. Dr. John Buckey. Brown has washable and reusable trays.
“Everybody’s on board (with composting) theoretically,” Ryan added. “But it is expensive.”
NGSS students taught Village fourth graders how to make ecobricks, which are 12-ounce plastic bottles stuffed with other types of soft plastic, like product wrappers. Ecobricks can be used as building materials. Here in Marblehead, ecobricks can be dropped off at the transfer station and MacRae’s Sustainable Goods.
NGSS also planned an anti-idling campaign at MHS, with students standing outside the school carrying posters of polar bears on melting glaciers. They asked parents to shut off their cars while they wait to pick up their kids.
Genovese and Clock coordinate student trips to local thrift shops and clothing swaps to reduce consumption.
Looking ahead, Ryan hopes the NGSS will play a big role in an upcoming construction project.
“Marblehead High needs a new roof and it should have solar panels on it,” Ryan said. Students want a voice in that process.
‘Don’t discount our voice’
What motivates these students to dedicate so much time and effort to NGSS and green campaigns here in town?
For Genovese, a childhood trip changed her perspective.
“In China, I remember the sky being super hazy from smog. In Myanmar, I remember seeing other kids my age playing with a ball next to a pile of trash, with a murky river nearby. While I couldn’t help those communities directly, I knew that I could make our corner of the world a little better and hopefully inspire other students to continue lifelong eco-friendly habits.”
Clock hopes to study environmental science in college “and focus more on politics and legislation and how the average person can make their voice truly heard through environmental legislation.”
She has a message to adults here in Marblehead. “Listen to young people, don’t discount our voice. It’s our future and we care just as much. And, you know, support grassroots candidates financially if you are able. But most important, vote!”
Ryan is impressed by the teens’ dedication to making positive change.
“These students are becoming better informed, more involved community members; most will grow to be more responsible consumers; some will one day shape environmental policy.”
To learn more about the MHS chapter of NGSS, visit it on Instagram at @marbleheadngss.
Leigh Blander is an experienced TV, radio and print journalist who has written hundreds of stories for local newspapers, including the Marblehead Reporter. She also works as a PR specialist.