An Environmentally Minded School

Sehome transitions to a new school with greener practices

Sarah Hageman

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As Sehome transitions into a new building equipped with environmentally minded systems, the Sehome community is learning how to adapt with them. The construction of the new Sehome building and the systems that run the building were made with the environmental impact in mind.

Sehome is trying to be more mindful about trash and recycling terminology. “It’s easy to say, ‘Throw it in the garbage.” We’re really trying to shift the conversation to ‘Throw it in the landfill.’” Michelle Kuss-Cybula, Sehome’s Principal, said. The idea of clarifying landfill from the generalization of the “trash” or “garbage” is to push students to evaluate where their “trash” will end up and encourage them to evaluate what is landfill waste and what can be recycled and composted, making mindful decisions.

The students have good intentions and aren’t trying to resist the enforcement; some students have not been previously educated about trash sorting and the garbage systems because they are not practiced at home. The sorting in clarified by signage on all the bins.

The sorting was also encouraged by the Environmental Club who put up signs. For the first week in the new building, members of the environmental club stood by the bins at lunch to guide the miss-sorting of trash. Josie Dew (11), a member of the Environmental Club, said that it took some time for students to get a hang of the different bins but soon picked it up. “I think the most important thing when people are using the bins is that they take that extra second to make sure that they’re putting their items in the right bin, and just that little act will go a long way,” Dew said.

“Environmental Clubs goal is to promote environmental consciousness and sustainability in our school and community,” Elsie Dank (12), President of the Environmental Club, said. The club is working with Kuss-Cybula and the custodial staff to put a compost bin in all the science classrooms. Dank said that moving forward, their goals are to educate and talk about sustainable habits that students can take home with them.


There are three bins in all the classrooms. Landfill, paper recycling, and plastic/can/container recycling. Also, there was training for the teachers about how to sort trash; there was a classroom tutorial before they were given a key to the new building. “The tutorial was helpful but maybe teachers should give a tutorial to their students. It’s a basic skill we assume they know, but sometimes kids need a little more instruction,” Lonnie Schang, the Sehome ceramics teacher, said.


Sehome is pushing the food services to think about the cafeterias systems. Previously, the lunchroom used plastic utensils and paper plates. “There was a big push about ten years ago where [schools] had to get rid of silverware because it wasted more water, [due to washing the dishes]” Kuss-Cybula said.

The new school provides alternative ways. The school has a dishwasher that washer that uses less water with a higher capacity. “I know that that’s, in the long run, that’s more energy efficient and more healthy and less landfill waste,” Kuss-Cybula said.

“I’ve been really pushing our food services to be thinking about ‘How do we allow silverware and cups and plates in the cafeteria as opposed to the throwaways. We used to have vegetables that were wrapped in saran wrap and we took those away because what was happened was kids were eating and then throwing the paper plate that vegetables were on wrapped in plastic in the landfill.” Kuss-Cybula said. Now there is a bowl of veggies on the salad bar that students and staff can put on a plate to eliminate the paper and the plastic waste. The cafeteria system is trying to be conscious about what is put on a plate and how it is served. There is also a milk machine that eliminates the individual single-use milk cartons and the landfill waste from that.

“This building was built when we think about inclusivity, one of our core values was really thinking about how to allow more kids the opportunity to gather together at Sehome,” Kuss-Cybula said. Kuss-Cybula said that in the old building, the majority of students would never go to the cafeteria and see evidence of correct waste sorting. Now that there is only one place to get food, eat, and throw away one’s trash, everybody gets to learn how to correctly sort their waste. “The inclusive lunch area was intentional about one gathering space with one space to compost,” Kuss-Cybula said.

“One of the things that were struggling [with] is where to eat in the building because we have kids that are not willing to walk their stuff all the way back down to the commons if they eat somewhere else,” Kuss-Cybula, said. This is where the building can only do so much, and it is up to the students using the building to take a minute to be responsible with their waste. “What does that look like to have responsibility to students about being consumers of their own environment and being good steward of our environment? How do we allow kids to be independent with that but also encourage them to make good choices?” Kuss-Cybula said.


From busses, to electricity and water usage, an active school building can be very harmful to the environment. It’s not just the methods and materials used to construct a building that affects the environment. How it’s built to operate has a huge impact as well. “The construction of the building itself (concrete, steel, diesel equipment) releases many thousands of pounds of carbon dioxide but again, all that could be offset by the improvements in efficiency in the new building in addition to the solar panel installation,” Carter Maden, Sehome’s Environmental Science teacher, said.

The new Sehome building was built with the environment in mind. The building itself has many windows that provide natural light as an alternative to constant electrical light. When the electrical light is used, the light motion sensors turn the lights off automatically when a room is not being used. The new eco-friendly outlets will shut off on the weekend. The eco-friendly ones are green, and the white ones always run.

When the school was being built, Sehome tried to shop local to support the local economy. At the beginning of the process the trucks that came and delivered dirt and supplies, also brought materials out. The trucks tried to not come or leave empty handed to avoid wasteful trips.

Sehome was also looking at more sustainability in the materials that went into the building such as the paint and concrete. Those features are made to uphold and ware well with the weather systems.

The building is equipped with solar panel capacity for the roof. Sehome doesn’t have them up yet but there is a local supplier that makes them. The building is designed for solar panel use.

The thermostats are controlled to maintain a common status of heat to

avoid plug in fans or heaters. This allows more control and awareness of the energy used in the building.

“We also have open spaces so that you can be more aware of the input and the output of this building itself. So if you think of this building as a living organism, what are we inputting and what are we outputting into the community?” Kuss-Cybula said. Sehome has signage on the view of the boiler room so you can see what each system does.

There are so many more things that make a green school. But before Sehome can take more steps with the building, the Sehome community should master the systems that we already have. Kuss-Cybula said that she would love to see scaffolding of the learning and ownership of everyday involvement and for the students to take more ownership. “I’d love to see more ideas, but I’d also love to get 100% efficiency with what we have now,” Kuss-Cybula said.

The building can only provide so much assistance before we need to cooperate with it. “How do we get students to own being good stewards of our world because it is ultimately up to you guys to take the next steps, not just the school-adults, it’s the students,” Kuss-Cybula said.

Sehome will soon have a covered bike rack that is intended to encourage bi

king as transportation and promote a safe spot for the bikes to be safe. “It’s just those little decisions about stop before you throw it out, stop and think, I think that will change this school and help our world tremendously if we could just do those little things and do them well, rather than keep adding more, we [have to] do what we have right first before we can add more,” Kuss-Cybula said.

The implementations are not district wide. “I’m just hoping Sehome takes control and Sehome stands out among the schools of green schools that are conscious of their environment and really care. I would love to see Sehome students embrace that.” Kuss-Cybula said.

Our implementations could be noticed by surrounding schools. “Although the implementations are not yet district wide, I hope that the sustainable choices we are making will inspire the other nearby schools to follow,” Dew said.

Anisa Heming, director of the Center for Green Schools at the United Sates Green Building Council said in an article for USGBC that the three pillars that make a real impact are reduced environmental impact, increased health and well-being, and increased environmental and sustainability literacy for all graduates. To summarize, taking action and simply educating students about eco-friendly systems leads to successful long-term sustainability. “wouldn’t it be great to have sustainability be a tradition at Sehome as opposed to something we’re forced to do, like we want to do it, we want this to be a tradition that were proud of at Sehome,” Kuss-Cybula said.


Looking into the boiler room from the commons.

This poster labels the boiler room.