Between the landscaper with the weed wacker in their butterfly garden, his
partner with a leaf blower outside their window for nearly an hour, and the
pesticide applicator ready to spray their room, Suzanne and her 5th grade
students felt as if they were under attack last week at their Bridgeport school.
Last year the "landscapers" cut down two rows of raspberries her students had
planted to create a "living, edible fence," so as soon as Suzanne heard that
sound again, she got coverage for her class and literally ran downstairs to
check. Sure enough, the fellow with the string trimmer was just about to clean
up the perennial flower garden her students planted to beautify the school
entrance. However, all the plants in that garden are flowering perennials;
there are no weeds. SAVED! But, by the time she got back to her room, the roar
of a leaf blower filled the space outside the four classrooms on her side of the
building. All that noise and pollution just to move a few leaves around. Next
the pesticide applicator was seen down the hall ready to spray poison around the
classrooms to control bugs. She closed her door, but he sprayed other
classrooms with a poison so strong that its residues will kill pests for weeks.
That was just one day. For much of this year, a crew was painting during school
hours. The paint can's label warns of the dangers of inhaling fumes from this
paint and stresses the need for adequate ventilation. In the middle of winter,
however, the crew was painting the cafeteria while the students were eating
there, with all the windows closed. (Keep in mind that these children already
live in some of the most polluted air in the country, and many of them suffer
Most of the winter, Suzanne's classroom windows had to be open anyway, so that
the incredible heat in her room didn't put everyone to sleep. In the winter!
Last fall a contractor placed the air-conditioning compressor unit for the
principal's office almost right on top of a lilac bush students had planted
three years before. Although the unit's placement was crude and inconsiderate,
it was also stupid. As the lilac grows, it will tend to choke out the noisy air
conditioner. A slight adjustment of location would have made a big difference in
long-term maintenance costs.
This year, taking orders for student lunches has been added to the teachers' job
description. For example, on April 9, her students could choose between a
meatball grinder and a hot dog. On April 10, beef nacho and a bologna and
cheese sandwich were the choices. There is no healthy choice here!
In years past, a contractor paved up to and right on up the trunks of the big
trees which provide welcome shade to the south side of the school. The
custodians used to spray herbicides on the cracks in the asphalt playground
while the children were playing, until they were urged to read the label which
indicated that the applicator should be wearing extensive protective clothing to
use that substance.
Children learn by example. Modeling is important. And yet, ignorance is
spreading so fast in our society (with enormous help from television), that the
school system either has no idea how to treat a tree, a bush, or a perennial
garden, let alone a vegetable garden or a child, or else it doesn't think these
things matter. All that seems to matter is higher test scores so the kids can
compete in the mythical global marketplace. Never mind that the air they breath
is poisoned, that the food they are served is unhealthful, that their senses are
assaulted and their work and environment are trashed, all paid for with our
There are, however, some great examples of change toward more ecological
solutions which are an integral part of the educational process. The Hartford
Food System is helping students learn to cook and eat local fruits and
vegetables for lunch. The Partnership for Healthy Schools, in Albany, New York,
distributes resources for eliminating the use of pesticides in schools. Green
Teacher magazine devoted its recent issue to "Transforming School Grounds" into
ecological learning areas and the many benefits derived by students.
To find out more about these positive changes, send a stamped, self addressed
envelope to Healthy Schools, WSHU, 5151 Park Avenue, Fairfield, CT 06432.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
C1996, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 153, Stevenson, CT 06491
Solar Farm Education is based on the Old Solar Farm, operated for about half of
this century by Joe and Josephine Solar. Suzanne and Bill Duesing are working
to increase the direct use of solar energy and the number of farms and gardens.
Solar Farm Education works to increase local sufficiency and organic agriculture
through a variety of projects including lectures, writings, a long-running
school garden program in Bridgeport, an educational farm in New Haven and work
with the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) and the New Haven Ecology
Since 1990, Bill and Suzanne have produced a weekly radio essay/commentary for
broadcast on WSHU, 91.1 FM , public radio from Fairfield, Connecticut. Living on
the Earth airs every Friday morning at 6:53. New essays are posted weekly at
http://www.wshu.org/duesing. All the essays aired since November,1995 are also
available at this site.
A collection of over 90 of Bill's essays, Living on the Earth: Eclectic Essays
for a Sustainable and Joyful Future, published by LongRiver Books in 1993 is
available from Bill Duesing, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491 for $14 postpaid for
the first copy. $12 each thereafter. Quantity discounts available.