Ludlowe’s Environmental Position is in the Hands of Students

Receiving my lunch on a new styrofoam tray in the Fairfield Ludlowe cafeteria came as quite a shock to me. My understanding has been that Ludlowe and Fairfield Public Schools (FPS) care about acting for the good of the environment, and not just with consideration of finances and peace of mind. Apparently, my understanding was not entirely correct.

When I first encountered these new trays, my mind jumped to the worst: the school district thought that this option was a better financial decision–they didn’t care about being eco-conscious, and that was the end of it. 

In hope there was something that could be done, I emailed Head Principal Greg Hatzis, and he contacted Maura O’Malley, the school district’s food service general manager from Whitsons Foods. O’Malley explained that the situation was temporary, and was purely due to a supply chain issue.

O’Malley also noted that she hoped to receive paper trays in their next order, which was to be in two weeks. This was, unfortunately, nothing more than a hope, because the styrofoam trays continued to be used through late January.

While my worries about this change were not eliminated, this situation is representative of a common theme, especially with environmental issue approaches: the longer an issue remains unresolved, the harder and less likely anything is to get done. 

In talking with various people at Ludlowe, I was able to further confirm this new conception of mine: both students and administrators are, in many ways, unwilling to adapt and uneducated on the topic of environmental threats. 

The recent FPS waterfall budget reveals that only a few FPS schools have plans to improve anything environmental-related in the next 10 years. Hatzis explained that “they will ask my opinion on how best to [make various changes]. The when; what designs might be best; little things.” But ultimately, these kinds of decisions are out of even his hands.

Evidently, there is only so much that can be accomplished by the individual schools without the help of the district, and the district is already spread thin, leaving little ability for action to be taken to improve each school’s position in regards to being eco-friendly and environmentally conscious. 

While it’s obviously difficult to have hope in the school to take action, it’s important that on an individual level we persist in directing the school and district administrations to be active in making changes for the better of the environment. 

It’s no secret that there is room for improvement. Hatzis even described our environmental state as “a neutral position,” and, although he doesn’t feel there are any immediate concerns, that “there are ways we could improve to be in a better place.”

In an ideal world, there are many things that I would love to see at Ludlowe. Even Hatzis said that he “always leans more towards self-sustaining things like gardens,” but that a garden would not be practical, except in perhaps “niche programs like the culinary program.” 

Other things that are important to an environmentally-conscious school atmosphere are making composting, recycling, and landfill waste more prominent concepts, transitioning from harmful materials used in school like in the cafeteria, and creating opportunities for students to be environmentally engaged.

Similarly, with the water bottle refillers– encouraging students to bring their own reusable water bottle instead of buying plastic water bottles would save students money and help the environment eliminate plastic water bottles.

This also works on a larger scale, like with the solar panels. By choosing to install solar panels, the district not only switched to clean energy, but it now saves enormous amounts in energy costs to the district, especially considering the installation was mostly paid for by the company that installed them. While there are some trade offs, ultimately, the positives outweigh the negatives.

However, here at Ludlowe, there seems to be somewhat of a consensus that there is nothing else that can be done to be an environmentally-friendly school. But perhaps we here at Ludlowe are not actually in a state of “lack of action,” but rather in a state of pessimism. 

Yet, head Custodial Supervisor at Ludlowe, Bob Brunetti, said that Ludlowe is already “on a set program,” noting that “we recycle all the time, we know that we check the building temperature, we clean the air filters, we communicate with Mr. Hatzis.” 

Some promise is shown, also, through Brunetti’s openness to working with students, saying that “if students ever come up with any ideas, we’re always open to listening and implementing [them].” 

Ludlowe Eco Club Co-President Heide Atkins also said that the school has “given us a lot of leeway with projects we want to start.” 

Considering what may seem like a low-priority state of environmental concern at Ludlowe and within FPS, students have an obligation to not just be aware, but to care, and make the good of our environment a part of their thinking and decision making. 

This can be difficult when we’re constantly surrounded by a school atmosphere in which the physical world we live in is not a focus.

I regularly see students do things like buying plastic water bottles, driving themselves to school everyday, and crumpling up paper and throwing it in the trash. All of the harmful things that people at Ludlowe do, though, have very obvious solutions, but sometimes it’s our mindset to ignore options that could affect the way we enjoy living our lives. I can’t say that I’m not guilty of this at times, either. 

However, knowing that we are all a little guilty in some way of putting ourselves before the environment, there is great potential for changes that can be made.

What exactly does action look like, you may be wondering? 

I’m not telling you to buy an electric vehicle, stop eating meat, and never turn on the lights again. 

My suggestions are actually pretty simple. Start by trying to recognize places in your life where there are two clear options: one that’s bad for the environment, and one that’s better. You’ll find that as you encounter opportunities to make the smarter and more considerate choice, these choices become the easier and more beneficial one.

Other areas in which you could think about changing things you do are how you get to school, the food you eat, the electricity you use, and the things you say about the environment.

There are an endless number of things that can be done to help our natural world, but evidently, they all begin with individual students. One action may not have a visible impact but, as Atkins said, “We can control what we do…so if you accumulate a whole bunch of small victories, you’re building towards a bigger cause.”