Unorganized recycling bags in the Northridge Academy underground parking lot
Unorganized recycling bags in the Northridge Academy underground parking lot
Josiah Anderson

Environmental Concerns at NAHS start with Water Dispensers

Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), despite its vastness, exhibits a glaring deficiency in promoting environmental sustainability, particularly in smaller establishments like Northridge Academy High School. The concerted efforts of student-led organizations such as Earth Club, the California Scholarship Federation, and Key Club, starkly highlight the existing vacuum in the district’s recycling and sustainability initiatives.

Senior council president Alyssa Fernandez, a member of the LAUSD Board District 3 Student Advisory Council, and Ms. Nancy Grey, a co-teacher at Northridge Academy and sponsor of Earth Club, offer unique perspectives on the issue. Fernandez underscores the district’s passive approach: “I feel like there has been minimal efforts from the district towards sustainability,” suggesting that the onus of promoting sustainability often falls on the students themselves. Her viewpoint sheds light on the broader narrative of LAUSD’s stance on environmental sustainability.

Echoing this sentiment, Ms. Grey details her direct involvement: “I organize recycling events…provide teachers with bags for recycling, gloves so people don’t get their hands dirty,” illustrating the grassroots nature of the school’s recycling efforts due to the District’s lackluster support. Ms. Grey is an extremely tenacious figure in sustainability at our school. She alone goes out of her way to garner and incentivize student and staff support in recycling. Once a month she will hold an event with Earth Club in the school’s underground parking lot where we hold the mountains of unorganized bags of plastic bottles. Even in moments when no students come to assist, she would stay on her own after school hours to organize and transport these bottles herself. She herself has stated that she does not necessarily have to be alone in the effort of transport, “I could get someone from the district to come and collect all of those (but) we would not get any recycling money for them.” Ms. Grey takes it upon herself to fill up as many bags of recycling bottles as possible to a recycling center and raise funds for Earth club which are used to purchase incentives like food so students are willing to come down and help her out.

Water Dispensers
Water dispensers are an almost perfect solution to reducing recycling and waste at our school. Instead of a water fountain, these dispensers provide clean filtered water free for any students to use. In turn these encourage the use of metal water bottles over plastics which are very regularly used here at NAHS with the addition of a water vending machine and plastic bottles being sold in our student stores. According to Fernandez, “Many people are wasting money on plastic bottles they end up throwing away in the trash, while students who do not have money with them or drank all their water stay dehydrated.” These water dispensers seem to have benefit after benefit for sustainability at the school, so why don’t we have these yet?

In response to the question, “What do you believe LAUSD can do in terms of recycling and pro-environmental efforts?” Ms. Grey responded with the following:

“They can purchase and maintain water dispensers we have long had a request in for water dispensers to be placed in multiple locations around the school and we would not have to have a recycling program if the water dispensers were in place and students cooperated…we are in line (to receive dispensers) and they are slow to get to us but we are on the waiting list, unfortunately, it’s very expensive to maintain them and it is impossible to offer recycling money to support that program because ideally, we will not have to have a recycling program that brings in a couple of hundred dollars a month if they are dispensing water in reusable containers.”

Ms. Nancy Grey, Earth Club Sponsor (Josiah Anderson)

The biggest problem preventing our school from starting to make the transition to water dispensers and encourage metal over plastics is the cost. The only thing that would have raised funds to maintain the dispensers is the small amount of money brought in by donating plastic waste, which is already eliminated by these dispensers. Instead, the cost would fall straight to the school, hopefully in the near future we could see the change in our school allowing these dispensers to fall into its budget. Our school being a Title 1 school means it supports low income and disadvantaged students. Providing a clean and free source of water that any student can access instead of spending money most of every day to purchase water bottles should be a priority.

The Role of Education and Participation
Both Fernandez and Ms. Grey stress the importance of educating students on sustainable practices. Fernandez calls for curriculum integration: “students should be taught how to recycle their bottles, cans, etc., correctly.” Ms. Grey highlights a practical approach to student involvement: “until we get our dispensers, it would be very helpful if people would bring their reusable bottles.” It is a common sight to see students not caring about recycling their waste, usually with bottles upon bottles in the garbage. Even in most classrooms where there are dedicated recycling boxes you are more than likely to find trash in the recycling and vice versa. If there was even just a bit more of a push for students to be aware of practicing recycling then we could help support the efforts of people like Ms. Grey and her Earth Club.

Toward a Greener Future
Ms. Grey’s vision for Northridge Academy extends beyond recycling, aiming for Xeriscaping and reducing dependency on non-native vegetation. This forward-thinking approach, coupled with Fernandez’s advocacy for enhanced district-wide sustainability curricula, encapsulates the broader story of recycling in LAUSD. Xeriscaping in particular is the easiest solution in sustaining the health of our campus. Especially in the back with the grass field and the drains that runs straight through it. Xeriscaping is the pracitice of landscaping with slow-growing and drought tolerant plants, california native plants being perfect for this effort. Landscaping our campus this way could bring a more positive and calming feeling to our campus and subconsciously improve the mentality of the student body. In the future, with Ms. Grey’s efforts and the support from students the back of our school can look more like an inviting place to hang out rather than somewhere we eat and leave our trash.

The narratives of Alyssa Fernandez and Ms. Nancy Grey, intertwined with their active roles in promoting recycling and sustainability within LAUSD, reveal a complex landscape. While grassroots efforts at schools like Northridge Academy demonstrate significant progress, the district’s overarching support and infrastructure lag behind. The journey towards a sustainable future within LAUSD requires a symbiotic relationship between district-wide policies and school-level initiatives. As Fernandez poignantly notes, “sustainability is the ability to provide for the current generation without causing harm to the resources of future generations.” This principle, alongside Ms. Grey’s hands-on experience, underscores the need for a comprehensive approach to environmental education, infrastructure, and student participation across LAUSD.

In advocating for change, we must leverage these insights to foster a culture of sustainability that permeates every level of our educational system. The collective action of students, teachers, and district officials can transform LAUSD into a model of environmental stewardship for others to follow.

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