School was out for the summer in Gresham, but a small knot of seventh-graders from West Orient Middle School's Green Team was out behind the school anyway, working on a nature trail.
The students were spreading wood chips donated by the city of Gresham along a pretty, wooded path to create an outdoor classroom. Teachers already are formulating plans to use the trail in science lessons next year.
"This beautiful space wasn't being used," says Alan Crapser, West Orient's Green Team adviser and head custodian. "As a former Eagle Scout, I know how important nature is for kids."
It's one of many projects West Orient's Green Team tackles throughout the school year. The school was recently awarded Oregon's highest level of Green Schools certification for its many efforts to make the school more sustainable with everyday actions.
In a raucous, all-school, year-end assembly, Meghan Borato, waste-reduction specialist with the city of Gresham, assisted by Portland Trail Blazers mascot Blaze, awarded the premier level certification to the school's Green Team, and its adviser, Crapser.
West Orient joined 12 other schools statewide to achieve this top sustainability ranking from the nonprofit Oregon Green Schools. The organization "is dedicated to energizing and engaging students through student-driven activities that advance their understanding and ownership of sustainability," according to its mission statement.
The West Orient student Green Team, which meets twice a week after school, leads the school's efforts.
Student William Davis, taking a break from the trail work, says the Green Team "is really helping the school with recycling. Recycling is important because it helps our environment."
"It's fun too," chimes in Kellie Hytrek, leaning on a rake.
The students are especially proud of their role in inspiring other kids to be more environmentally aware. "Other students say 'yes we should do this,' " says team member Gracie Kasper.
The kids on the Green Team process the school's weekly recycling, removing contaminated items and containers that qualify for a 10-cent bottle redemption. They also pass out big blue bags so students can bring back bottles and cans for redemption. The money they raise pays for the school's environmental programs.
The team collected usable school supplies during the year-end locker clean out, so the pencils and paper can be re-used next school year. The team picks up litter on school grounds and sometimes tidies up at a nearby elementary school.
The group wears T-shirts they crafted using second-hand shirts, created in partnership with the nonprofit SCRAP PDX.
A waste audit conducted by the team at the 450-student school found West Orient is recycling about 70 percent of the materials generated at the school. "That's a very high recycling rate," Borato says. The West Orient Green Team also helped nearby Hollydale Elementary School with a waste audit.
The Green Team has big plans for next school year. They'll hold a contest to see which grade can recycle the most. They plan to try out "low-light Thursdays" to see if the school can reduce the amount of lighting used. The school also will install low-flush toilets.
Borato praises custodian Crapser for his enthusiasm and leadership of the sustainability efforts. His "determination and energy are a winning combination that have taken the school to new heights of environmental awareness and leadership," she says.
Principal Elise Catanese says Crapser also manages to get some students involved with the school who might not otherwise. The Green Team students also learn some science, math and other academic subjects as they try to reduce West Orient's impact on the environment.
Crapser is excited to hear how teachers plan to use the new nature trail in next year's science classes. "I'm pretty stoked because this will be the first use of a Green Team project in a classroom."