As the Shawnee Mission School District strives to become more sustainable, a group of students from Prairie Elementary School are taking initiative and developing a new cafeteria protocol to eliminate the need for plastic utensils.
The Prairie Green Team is a group of fourth and fifth grade students who are lobbying for sustainability in their school cafeteria. The group launched their idea at a Shawnee Mission School District Board of Education meeting where the students asked if the board would consider looking into more sustainable practices in the school's cafeteria.
Dr. Christy Ziegler, Chief of Student Services for SMSD, says that meeting started the conversation. “We followed up and reached out to the Prairie Elementary principal, the director of food service, and myself, and we decided it'd be great if we could set a time to come in and meet with the green team, and talk about the things that they're wondering about and the pieces that they're recommending that we try and implement.”
“That group of kids was very passionate about sustainability and the environment,” said Grace Liss, the Director of Food Services. “They had very educated and well thought out ideas, and they understood the challenges of the food service spaces and implementing some of their ideas.”
The Prairie Green team is not a new program at the school and has spearheaded several sustainability projects including cleaning up the school’s front garden, planting a tree at a local park, and working to make lunchtime more eco-friendly. Sixth grader Nora Lynn they work a lot on brainstorming solutions to difficult problems.
“I think that something we are trying to work on is using more of the blue lunch trays, which are the reusable ones. One of the problems we had was we don't have enough staff to get in there and clean the trays because they only have 15 minutes between the different lunches,” Lynn said.
The students and advisors decided the first step was bringing back reusable utensils. The forks and spoons were used in schools a few years ago, however, they were discontinued after students accidentally threw the utensils away and the COVID-19 pandemic sanitation concerns. The Green Team decided to combat this issue by using a new sorting system with pictures and colors to show where the new utensils go.
The new plan was a success during the trial run at the end of the 2023 school year. The Green Team students helped teach their classmates and younger peers how to sort the utensils, making sure they were not thrown away.
Starting this year, all of the elementary schools have adopted the new practice with hopes of growing to the middle schools in the near future. While this process is new, the Prairie Green team continues to brainstorm opportunities to create a more sustainable SMSD.
“Because we're kids, we're going to be alive a long time. And, I feel like we need to have a lot of sustainable things so that we can make our world a better place for the future,” sixth grade Prairie Green team member Emeline Wilinski said.