Some classrooms keep guinea pigs as classroom pets. Others keep rabbits and turtles. Erica Lee and her first-graders have earthworms. The bin of wriggly creatures are kept as classroom pets to teach students about vermicomposting. The first-graders learn first-hand how vermicomposting works — worms eat our food scraps, which they digest and become castings, or worm waste, that can be used as a nutrient-rich compost for the school’s potted plants and planters.
“We started the compost bin about two years ago in the middle of my first year at Lab,” says Ms. Lee. “When the first cohort of first-graders were in second grade we finally had enough soil to remove one of the trays and deposit the soil upstairs in our planting box on the roof. It takes a long time for worms to turn lunch leftovers into fresh soil. We collect food waste from lunches, snacks, and some people bring it from home. We feed them about once a week.”
These classroom pets are helping students to think about the vital role earthworms play in our ecosystem. Kids are encouraged to think about the food they eat, and the food that is often needlessly thrown away. Approximately 40 percent of our food goes to waste each year in the U.S., according to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization, and more than 97 percent of food waste ends up in landfills, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
In the Lower School, the P.A. recently awarded third grade teacher Ginger Philips a $500 grant to develop hands-on activities in eco-literacy, using composting as an entry point. The third grade homerooms will partner with the Middle School to further explore how students can engage and model sustainable practices.
The earlier we create awareness and knowledge, the better. Ms. Lee’s and Ms. Philips efforts are teaching kids to be mindful about food waste, and helping them to become a part of the waste-free generation.