In 2010, one book served as the springboard for sustainability at Cherry Hill’s Beck Middle School.
That year, the school did a “Whole School Read” program where the entire school read a book called “Seedfolks.” In the book, a diverse urban community gathers together to plant a community garden. The book inspired to students to start their own community garden at Beck.
“Every year, we’re reading a book and trying to tie these projects to our garden,” said Ramona Bregatta, a media specialist and Cherry Hill Public Schools’ Green Team liaison.
Six years later, Beck’s sustainability initiatives have been noticed outside the Cherry Hill community.
The school has received a $4,820 environmental education grant from hygiene and forest products company SCA. The grant was awarded thanks to the school-wide “Working Together to Save the Planet” sustainability initiative.
SCA only rewarded grants to 15 schools nationwide this year. Beck was the only school in New Jersey to receive one. The grant money is being used to enhance sustainability projects each grade level is working on at Beck this year.
Bregatta was instrumental in orchestrating the sustainability projects each grade worked on this year. She felt each of these projects could have a long-term benefit in the school community.
“Last year, I proposed this plan to our faculty at our end-of-the year meeting,” Bregatta said. “It’s really something we started before we applied for the grant.”
This year, the sixth grade at Beck participated in an assignment named “Plastic Police.” The assignment focused on reducing one-time plastic use. The seventh-grade class’ project was named “Bugging Out,” and looked at saving and preserving insects. The eighth grade class’ project, named “Air Ambassadors,” focused on improving outdoor air quality.
Within each grade level, the students were divided into three teams, each of which focused on a specific aspect of the project.
“Each team came up with an idea of what they were going to focus on,” Bregatta said. “In sixth grade, one team focused on single-use water bottle, one focused on plastic shopping bags and another focused on plastic packaging.”
The money received from the grant is being used in relation to each of the three projects. For example, in connection with the sixth grade project, the school is purchasing refillable water bottles and reusable shopping bags to decrease the amount of plastic used at the schools.
To help with the seventh grade project, grant money is being allocated to purchase milkweed seed and make Beck’s outdoor garden friendlier for insects.
The school also plans to purchase new skateboard and bicycle racks in connection with the eighth grade project in hopes more kids will use those modes of transportation in lieu of cars and buses to get to school.
This year’s sustainability projects are just the tip of the iceberg for Beck’s initiative. The school recently received donations from the Cherry Hill Education Foundation for larger recycle bins after the school had a large increase in recycling.
“We were finding the recycling buckets were overflowing,” Bregatta said. “So we tripled the size of the recycle bins.”
CHEF also donated plastic baskets for the school to use during lunch in hopes of eventually replacing Styrofoam trays.
The SCA grant is not the only one Beck has received this year. Beck was one of a few Cherry Hill Schools receiving a Recyclebank grant, where residents could donate Recyclebank points toward their school. Beck received a $3,000 grant from Recyclebank and is using it to install a sculpture in the middle of the school’s garden.
Bregatta is impressed with how much the students have embraced sustainability.
“Every year, the kids are learning more about making our planet sustainable,” Bregatta said.
With the students getting so involved in sustainability, the school is hoping to get the community more involved as well. Beck is looking for community members and families to care for the school’s garden during the upcoming summer break. Those who are interested in getting involved can contact Bregatta at RBregatta@chclc.org.