PROVO, Utah – Sophomore Sydney Gardner cares about the environment so she joined Hillcrest High’s Earth Club in its first year. In March, she and her friend, Carissa Jameson, donned bright orange vests to walk along Highway 71 to clean up litter.
“People are seeing us, knowing that we are taking the initiative to make our community a better place,” Sydney said. “I’m happy to do it; I care about the environment.”
Carissa added it’s something engaging she could do with friends while helping the environment.
They were two of about 20 Hillcrest Earth Club members who teamed up with the school’s chapter of National Honors Society members to walk the route from 5900 South to Lindy Drive, filling about 10 yard waste bags of trash as part of the Adopt-a-Highway national campaign, said Michael Chen, who founded Earth Club along with Sofia Moeinvaziri and Rian and Andrew Liew.
“We’ve committed to cleaning up the highway at least three times per year for two years,” Michael said. “We want to help the community. It’s a small thing to help the environment, but it’s one where we can do our part and make a noticeable difference.”
While the group picked up items as small as cigarette butts and drink cups, they also recycled some larger items such as discontinued real estate flier racks, said their adviser, Jake Flanigan.
“It was awesome way to reach out to the community to make them aware that these students in Earth Club care and they’re willing to sustain trash pick up in our community,” he said.
As part of the commitment, official signs will be posted at each end of their stretch, indicating Hillcrest High’s Earth Club is responsible for its cleanup. The idea behind participating in the program came when club’s service community coordinator Abigail Slama-Catron saw the signs on other highways and thought it would be a good way to serve the community, Sofia said.
“It’s a great idea,” she said after their initial pick up. “We got about seven new kids involved so we had a good group willing to do something to have a positive impact on our environment.”
Plus, member sophomore Ray Powers points out they’re being proactive: “If we take initiative to pick up litter and maybe it will remind other people not to throw out trash in the first place.”
It also provided those National Honor Society members a platform to provide community service, Michael pointed out, as members are required to perform 10 hours of service per quarter.
“We want to create a stronger coalition to help our Hillcrest community, and this is one way we can give three hours of service together. It feels good to do something to clean up our community and rid it of random pieces of plastic and parts of cars,” he said. “We are making a difference.”
The 70-member club’s main goal this year has been composting and the day after the road cleanup, they built their composting bins that they had purchased after writing and receiving the Be a Philanthropist grant for $500.
“We outlined what we wanted to do and what we needed the money for,” Sofia said, indicating with the grant they purchased two large compost tumbler bins, thermometers and buckets.
“The tumblers will help the Hillcrest compost program we started become more permanent,” Michael added.
The composting has mostly been waste from the school cafeteria, fruits and vegetables that may have been thrown out. Sofia added as the food services staff prepares meals, they add in ends of lettuce and other produce pieces.
The compost will be used in the school garden, which currently is in the courtyard, but will be moved to the southeast corner of campus as the old building is torn down and students move to the new school.
Earth Club oversees the school garden and plans to continue producing tomatoes, peppers, onions and other items they use to make salsa as the club and the school’s FCCLA and Latinos-in-Action team up to hold a “Salsa Salsa” party celebrating both food and dancing.
Traditionally, pumpkins also are grown in the garden, which students have painted and shared with the community.
Flanigan said they plan to harvest lettuce, beans and other cut greens from the garden prior to the school coming down. Much of this year’s produce has been shared with the faculty and staff.
Hillcrest’s Earth Club is looking to share its composting and gardening successes with Canyons School District schools as well as some in neighboring districts.
Another part of Earth Club is weekly recycling of paper and cardboard at the school.
“Since the beginning of school last fall, they recycled at least a ton,” Flanigan said.
This year, it has evolved to include picking up donations of items that faculty and staff no longer want as they prepare to move into the new building.
“We’ve taken fake plants, bikes, chairs, metal filing cabinets, picture frames, glass beakers— about anything. We recycle or donate what we can and then, also look at items to sell to put money into our club activities like gardening and composting,” Sofia said.
Another simple, but significant act students did was to update Google Maps of the school during construction.
“We have had so many people come to the front doors looking for our gym, which has been torn down and rebuilt, but Google Maps didn’t show that. This update has saved in reducing traffic and idling as well as crowds during the pandemic,” Flanigan said.
This year’s activities will wrap up with an Earth Day celebration. With COVID-19 restrictions on holding in-person assemblies, Rian created an environmental film to show in each classroom. They also want students to get involved by writing better ways to take action to take care of the Earth, Sofia said.
While the club plans to continue these projects next year, there are several ideas on the table for next year ranging from an environmental mural and holding more events as allowed during the pandemic to possibly investigating water rights in the area and looking at ways to become more energy efficient at the school.
“These kids have a lot of big ideas,” Flanigan said. “They’re pretty passionate and are motivating their peers to care more about our Earth.”