I’m a Tulsa Kid: Memorial High School Earth Team

Tulsa Memorial High School was named the 2011 Green School of the Year by Tulsa’s Metropolitan Environmental Trust. The Memorial High School Earth Team began as a student–led, school wide recycling program in 2006 with just nine members. Today the team boasts over 100 members and participates in recycling efforts and sustainable programs all over the city.  Memorial Environmental Science Teacher, John Beasley, facilitates the school’s environmental programs and answered questions about the Earth Team.

members of the tulsa memorial high school earth team

Oh Snap! Photography

Q: How does the Earth Team encourage students to become involved in the group?

A: The students at Memorial High School don’t need encouragement from me to participate in the Earth Team. Young people today are very motivated to be a part of something larger than themselves and to make a difference in the future of their community. This is truly a student driven organization. I am honored to be the one to help coordinate and facilitate their actions.

Q: How does the Earth Team promote the recycling program to students and teachers?

A: Our teachers have been very supportive of the Earth Team. Every classroom has recycle bins for bottles, cans, and paper. At least once a month the environmental science classes collect all recyclables from the classrooms during the school day. Our visibility not only helps promote our program but also helps to develop good recycling habits amongst the students. Additionally, we have many different environmental and recycling T-shirts (many made from recycled material) that students wear to school and at volunteer events.

Q: What items are the biggest recycling products at Memorial?

A: By far the biggest single item that we collect here at Memorial is plastic bottles. All of our vending machines dispense plastic bottles, and we try to catch every one of them. We also get significant numbers of aluminum cans. We collect cardboard, paperboard, polystyrene (Styrofoam), batteries, printer cartridges and old cell phones. Basically, if we have a method for proper disposal of an item, we will collect it. Again, the students are the ones that keep on top of this. As an example, we recently held a blood drive here at the school and the student organizers came to me to get recycle bins to collect the orange juice and water bottles. I cannot say this enough, it is all about developing environmental awareness and developing good habits of recycling.

Q: What other environmental programs is the Earth Team involved with?

A: The Earth Team started by working with Blue Thumb, a water education program through the Oklahoma Conservation Commission. Our campus is on the grounds of LaFortune Park, so we have access to Little Joe Creek and two ponds. We simply walk out the back door to conduct meaningful fieldwork. We routinely test the water quality of Little Joe Creek, conduct aquatic macro-invertebrate collections, and collect and identify native fish species.

I am the current Chairman of the Tulsa County Conservation District (TCCD). TCCD gives Memorial volunteers a ton of opportunities to be involved in community projects. We have helped build and maintain rain gardens in the greater Tulsa area including Remington Elementary, Grogg’s Green Barn and Ray Harral Park in Broken Arrow. The TCCD also lets Memorial students work their educational booth at various events like the Tulsa State Fair, Earthfest at the Tulsa Zoo and home and garden shows.

Our two biggest projects are the Household Pollutants Collection Event with the Metropolitan Environmental Trust (MET) and recycling at the Tulsa State Fair with the Tulsa Master Recyclers, among others.

Q: How does the Earth Team stay up to date on recycling and environmental issues?

A: I am very active in Tulsa’s environmental community and feel like I have a good idea of local issues. Things are getting better (greener) every year in Tulsa and I am excited about the role we play in making Tulsa a greener community.  In the classroom, with all of the environmental issues that we discuss, we look at how those issues affect us in Northeast Oklahoma. From Tulsa water treatment and source lake quality, to eutrophication of the Illinois River watershed, to Tar Creek, to the endangered least tern on the Arkansas River, to changes in Tulsa’s waste management, environmental topics are important current events.

Q: Does the Earth Team have a new recycling endeavor for the New Year?

A: This year we are looking for options to repurpose materials. This began as a challenge to certify the Route 66 Marathon as the first green race in Oklahoma through the Council for Responsible Sport. It has forced us to look at new ways of disposing of materials used at the event. Our first endeavor into repurposing is with the Tulsa Girls Art School (Tulsa GAS). Matt Moffett of Tulsa GAS has taken in several of the banners used at the marathon and will be working with his students transforming them into handbags and other useful or artistic items. We have also gotten great ideas and feedback from Jessica Hargis of the Tulsa Master Recyclers, Shelley Umezawa of the MET, and local artist Lauren Lunsford (aka Rainbow Girl) about repurposing materials. Several teachers from Memorial’s visual arts department are also excited about coming up with repurposing projects for their students.