Thursday, May 31, 2012

Early Educational Services: Teaching Eco-Responsibility to the Next Generation

Article by Grace Sorenson, Campus Sustainability Intern

From 11-month-old infants to pre-teens, the children in the Early Educational Services program at UC Santa Cruz are instilled with environmentally-conscious behaviors from day one.

“We are caretakers, but we are also preparing them to be responsible adults, and that includes behaviors such as recycling and composting,” says Sohyla Fathi, Director of Early Educational Services.

All food served at EES is prepared on campus. The menu is minimally processed and simple, and is organic or from the garden when possible. The kids eat together with their instructors, and green dishes for compost are located at each table. Reusable silverware and dishes are used at every meal. Each placemat at the tables is a laminated graphic delineating the basic food groups—grains, vegetables, fruits, protein, and dairy.

In the classroom where the youngest bracket of children are cared for, boys and girls between 11 months and 2 years old sit around a table with an instructor joyfully eating fruits and vegetables and cheese. A dish for compostable food scraps is on each table, and though they’re a bit too young to separate dairy products and vegetable matter, it seems that it’s never too early to start modeling the composting process. An instructor enthusiastically shows me a nearby poster with photographs of their regular field trip to the adjacent College Eight garden, where they empty their buckets into the garden’s compost.

In the sprawling outdoor play area there is a garden, and a nearby workstation with dwarf-sized gardening tools and a long line of miniature watering cans. There are tomato plants, parsley, cilantro, peas, basil, oregano, and mint. Sohlya explains that the kids plant the garden together and are each designated a specific plant that becomes their responsibility to care for and water. “That one’s mine!” a small blonde girl yells proudly, pointing emphatically at an oregano plant. When certain herbs or vegetables are used for a meal, the children harvest what is needed and bring it to the cook.

Clearly labeled, multi-lingual recycling stations are stationed in each classroom. Skylights illuminate most of the rooms with natural light, and containers and toys are made of wood and other natural materials instead of plastic. The lush forest surrounding the entire facility seems to serve as daily reminder to the kids of what the “environment” is and why it’s worth preserving. The values and habits imprinted upon us when we are young often last our entire lives, and it is an environment like this that will help foster a more responsible, ecologically-aware generation of young adults.

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