From Sustainability to a Vision for Community: Mackintosh Academy-Littleton’s Smart Village Initiative

IMG_0128“We didn’t create this mess. But none of us are innocent. Grownups are looking to us to solve the problem.” Mack-Littleton student

You could say it all started with the sun. Or, rather, it started with the students who were inspired to apply for a grant to enable the installation of solar panels.  Last school year, the entire Mackintosh Academy-Littleton community was energized and inspired by the success of a group of 6th grade students: their capstone school project won a large grant from State Farm’s Youth Advisory Board. The faculty wanted to keep the eco-friendly momentum going, so last spring it established a Green Team to help articulate goals. They even enlisted the help of some students to create a kick-off video for the school year, THE POWER OF ONE, to help motivate the whole school community.

But Mackintosh-Littleton saw sustainability as just the start of a journey towards being a smarter, more caring school community. Inspired by the theme of this year’s World Affairs Challenge, the school has taken on the vision of becoming a “Smart Village.” As part of this effort they will not only continue to work towards sustainability but will also find ways to act on values like promoting innovation, diversity, and caring for one another, encompassing a broader sense of sustainability. For instance, money saved on operations costs from adding the solar panels are being used to fund “Solar Scholarships” which will help increase diversity at the school. And students are finding other ways to put ideas into action as they are empowered by the faculty to live their values and beliefs.

One student-led effort is currently moving the school towards “zero waste” for campus events and lunches.

“How do you get your events and lunches to be zero waste in a culture of having paper plates and plastic silverware available?”  The 7th/8th grade design class took that question on, and the students nailed it. They came up with the idea of creating and selling “Messh Kits” (“Like mess kits, but better!”) for families to use at school-wide events. The students gathered cutlery and non-breakable dishes procured from thrift shops and then assembled them into kits stored in easy-to-wash mesh bags. The idea was that families would bring their Messh Kits to use at school events instead of the school providing paper plates and plastic cutlery.

The Messh Kits have been a stunning success. The students sold out of them at the carline during pick up, and families used their kits at the Back to Mack event in August. In addition to the kits, the students used colored duct tape to designate classroom sets of cutlery for students to use during lunch, instead of disposable plastic cutlery, as a back up in case a student or teacher forgets to pack reusable utensils in their lunch boxes. When asked why the Messh kits were an important part of their Smart Village efforts, one student said, “Plastic is made out of oil, and we wanted to get rid of all of the waste.”Sprout_SharedImage (000000034)

Even parents are getting involved. Before the school year began, a Mack-Littleton parent suggested the school establish a connection with Terracycle, an upcycle/recycle organization that collects items not typically accepted for recycling by the average waste management company. Mack teacher Lara Pausback explained, “There are several “brigades” for collecting specific items. At Mack, each grade level is responsible for a particular brigade and making sure that students are remembering to put items in the Terracycle bins. The brigades that we are focusing on are drink pouches, Go Go Squirts, Power Bar wrappers, and Lunchables containers. These items are sent to Terracycle who then upcycles them into cool products for sale.”  They began this the very first day of school.

Mackintosh students are thrilled with what they’ve accomplished so far. “We’re helping make the world a better place, starting with our school.”

Mack-Littleton students, teachers, and parents have all rallied around the Smart Village campaign. Who knows what ideas will come next to help make the school – and hence their world – a better place.