So far this week:
- Sunday: Consumption
- Tuesday: Transportation
- Wednesday: Food
- Thursday: Energy
- Friday: Water
- Saturday: Giving Back
- Sunday: Eco-Sabbath
New job, new city, new challenge.
I must be a glutton for punishment, cause here I am again doing No Impact Week. Only, I guess this time it’s different since I’m not so much of a skeptic. While some of the habits I developed during January’s No Impact Week have fallen by the wayside (sorry, I love my 30 minute showers… but I do turn off the faucet when I’m washing dishes or brushing my teeth!), I really valued the lessons I learned during the last No Impact Week. So much so, that this time I’m around I’m not doing it alone!
I recently started a new job teaching in Houston, Texas, and I’ve spent the last week or two trying to get the staff and some students at the YES Prep Public School’s Southeast Campus (yes, that's right, the YES school, no relation) to get involved in the No Impact Experiment.
The idea started with me just wanting to involve my World Cultures class We just completed a few lessons on human-environment interactions and I thought No Impact Week would be the perfect culmination/class project. Except… I have 162 6th grade students, and I couldn’t figure out how honestly coordinate it all. So then I thought, why not just try to involve the Southeast staff?
I’m not sure what made me think coordinating 72 people would be any easier. But easy or not, Southeast is getting on board with the No Impact Experiment. So join me as I try to navigate through this next week, figuring out a new city, a new job… and this crazy challenge.
Live a fuller and happier life by buying less stuff.
I’m not sure what’s possessed me to do No Impact Week for the second time this year. Not that I didn’t enjoy the first time—it actually ended up being a lot better than I thought. But I recently started a new job and moved to a new city, and I’m already pretty overwhelmed with just trying to navigate that. Why add a week of carbon cleansing?
But the fact that I started a new job and moved to a new city actually presented the perfect reason to do No Impact Week again. First of all, since I’m technically starting fresh, I can use this week to set up my new home and life in ways that are less impactful on the environment. And secondly, there was the potential that I could influence not just my own choices, but those of people I work with, too.
I am a 6th grade teacher at YES Prep Southeast in Houston, Texas. This year, our theme/motto/mantra—whatever you want to call it—is, “All In”: the idea that it takes each of us pulling our weight and giving our all to make a difference in the lives of our students. We’re going all in with grading systems, discipline, parent contact… even matching wardrobes! So, I figured, why not go “all in” on No Impact Week?
At first the plan was really just supposed to be for my 6th graders. But planning how to track and record 162 kids doing a carbon cleanse proved to be a bit impossible. Plus, most of our kids come from low-income households, and some have parents who don’t speak any English—so communicating the purpose of the week and making sure my kids would get the support they needed to be successful just didn’t seem possible. I decided to go after the staff instead. If we, the teachers, did No Impact Week, certainly our kids would notice the subtle changes and ask questions, right?
Coordinating 75 teachers wasn’t any easier. Every time I tried talking to anyone about it, I’d get responses like these:
“Well, I don’t know about turning off my AC for a week…”
“There’s no way I’m going without toilet paper!”
“Umm… I’m not sure if I can be that green.”
They sounded just like me in January! In fact, at times they actually sounded worse. I wanted to shake them and say, “Do I look like Kermit the Frog? I’m not all that green myself!”
But instead, I’d try to convince them that the experiment is what they make of it. It’s all about reflecting on the choices we make and seeing if we can make better ones. Adapting to our environment versus modifying it.
Well … I still didn’t get the “all in” response I was hoping for. In fact, only seven people are signed up for the YES Prep SE group. But that’s better than just me—so I’ll take the seven as a triumph. Plus, not only are the seven people signed up super excited about the adventure, but one is involving the recycling club, and another is our Student Council advisor. Both are getting the kids they work with involved in No Impact Week.
Overall, not consuming things should be easy. Now that I have a roommate, we actually have too much stuff and will be purging. Although, we currently don’t have a trash can (I guess that will help with the No Trash, huh?) and I do need to buy some stuff for my class. But those can probably hold off for a week. Also, one perk to being unemployed for a few months—I’ve already gotten into the habit of only buying what I truly need. When you don’t have money to spend, you’re forced to become a lot more thoughtful about the purchases you make. We’ll see how the rest of this week pans out…
This is tough.
Houston, I think, might be worse than Dallas in terms of public transportation. There's no way I can take a train or bus to work. And I live way too far to walk or bike (plus, I don't even own a bike yet).
My plan was to carpool, and I spoke to a couple of people a few weeks before about possibly arranging that. If only it were that simple.
As teachers, our hours aren't the traditional 8-5. While school might start at 8 am and end at 4:30pm., there's usually a lot we can be doing before and after those hours, and so we do. And every teacher has their own plans, schedules, and things. While trying to coordinate some sort of carpool, I realized just how conflicting our schedules can be.
One person gets to school at 6 a.m. each morning. I'm generally still forcing myself to get out of bed around then.
Another doesn't really roll into school until 7:45. While that has been me the past couple of days, I do like to be there earlier to just make sure everything is set for the day.
I have tutorials and need to stay till 6pm, or I still have tons of copies that need to be made and so I'm often here until 8.
Basically, things can always get in the way, and make carpooling very inconvenient. My initial carpool arrangement for today ended up having some grading to do and so didn't want to promise me a ride just in case the morning got too hectic/crazy. The plan is for us to try again tomorrow. We'll see how that goes.
I felt pretty guilty about driving myself to school today. Especially since this weekend I'll also be driving to Dallas (sorry, you couldn't pay me to take the Greyhound or Amtrack—a bus trip from Missouri to Oklahoma, and the train ride from St. Louis to Dallas has scarred me for life). So not only will I be making quite an impact on the environment, but I'll also be missing the Give Back Day.
Sometimes I do wish I lived somewhere like New York, or D.C., or even in Chicago again, so that making less impactful transportation choices would be easier. But this is Texas, large and spread out. Not having a car is close to impossible, and often times it's difficult to catch a bus, walk, or bike to the places you need to go. I wish the cities would invest in expanding public transportation. If we had it, we'd use it. Or at least, I would. Spending $50 to fill up my tank every week or so is not how I want to spend my money.
Well, we'll see how carpooling goes. Maybe if it works out really well this week, my co-worker and I can do it regularly once or twice a week or something.
I've been eating terribly lately. In fact, besides the free meal I mooch off of the Rev Food ladies during 7th period, I probably don't eat another well-balanced meal during the day.
Part of this has to do with how busy I've been. While I love the new job, it is demanding and I'm still getting the hang of balancing lesson planning, grading, and building strong student and parent relationships—not to mention my personal life! I rarely, if ever, eat breakfast. Lunch is at school. And dinner—yeah, I'll admit to going through the drive-thru or ordering a pizza a few times.
When No Impact Week started, I had lofty dreams of going shopping with my roommate and us throwing down in the kitchen making our first meal together this Wednesday. Except, I didn't get home from school until nearly 7 p.m., and she and her boyfriend were trying to get her unpacked and settled (she hadn.t been in the apartment for the last three weeks).
In the end, he treated us to Panda Express for dinner. A part of me was hesitant, since we were getting it to go and it would therefore create some level of trash. Plus, while they claim "fresh veggies daily," I'm not sure how local or non-processed the rest of the food was.
But let's face it. I was hungry.
Rev Food has served enchiladas that day, which means every kid wanted to eat and there were no leftovers. I needed some food.
I tried to compromise by getting just the bowl versus the food meal. The bowl comes in a small plastic bowl versus the Styrofoam take-out container. And it could be washed and reused if necessary. I also didn't get a drink. If we were getting it to go, I could always just pour myself a glass of water or juice at home.
I'm still consumed with guilt, but my choices were limited. My fridge has juice, some peaches and plums (which I did buy from a local farm!) and peanut butter (which, no matter how processed it might be, I'm obsessed with!). Not a lot of options when it comes to a meal.
I am hoping to change that soon, to get into a nice rhythm when it comes to cooking. I still need to figure out a good place to buy local foods in Houston now that the Newflower Farmers Market isn't practically in my backyard like in Dallas.
I must say that I think the food day is the hardest. I honestly don't have a lot of time since I spend 10-12 hours at school each day, and then lately my weekends have been full of weddings, bridal showers, training, or some major commitment that sucks my time. Also, healthy food is expensive.
This is something Amy and I talked about when we were figuring out how to involve our kids in No Impact Week. During lunch I notice that most of our kids will bring leftovers, or Ramen noodle bowls, or some other microwavable meal. And I remember eating those types of meals religiously back in the day, when I was a broke college student. You make do with what's cheap, yet filling, when you're on a tight budget. Amy just chose to skip talking about food with the StuCo kids:
"The kids went through their trash and divided up what they used for 10 minutes or more from what they used for 10 minutes or less. They found that most things they used for 10 minutes or less.
"This, of course led to our conversation about how much we waste! I challenged the students to try not to make any trash the next day (Tuesday). They said they could not do it but then we looked at our trash from Sunday, we realized it was doable if we just reused things and thought more about it!
"One of my students even brought a Tupperware container for lunch so she could reuse it instead of buying a paper container! On Tuesday, we focused on consumption because I did not see them Sunday and because living in Houston with the city so spread out and many of them riding the bus anyway, I decided to skip the transportation day. After watching "The Story of Stuff" video, my students were so surprised at how much we buy!
"We've decided that if nothing else, this week has been valuable in that it's been an education for our students (and ourselves!). And as we teach our kids, education is the beginning for all great things."
We spent the day in darkness.
Well, not literally. But I didn't have the lights on my classroom all of today. And I plan to do the same tomorrow. Instead, I cracked open the blinds and let the natural light illuminate the kids' work (and hopefully their minds). That's probably been one of the more fun parts of this week—getting to share it with my kids in small doses.
The trash can experiment goes strong. It is still hidden under my desk, and even the cleaning ladies have caught on and find it amusing. I do have kids who will blow their nose or begin sharpening their pencils and then get exasperated by my lack of a trash can. But they take it in stride, and the rest of the class always finds it a bit funny.
I've also been having them take notes in their class journals a bit more. Normally, I have 162 pages printed out of whatever material we're going to use. But now, for all the practice and homework, it's been done in their journals. That cut back on probably 324 pages a day. I even had some students try to debate with me about how if I let them use pens instead of pencils (the required writing utensil in Ms. Ishola's class), it would be less impactful.
We'd be saving tress, Miss!
They were unsuccessful, as I pointed out that ink also comes from plants, plus the plastic that's used in pen cases comes from oil—a non-renewable resource (which we just learned about) and at least treas are renewable (albeit not inexhaustible).
The little conversations I've been having about No Impact Week with some of the staff has been just as entertaining. Like when I decided to throw some trash I had created (those dang Rev Food meals!) in the classroom across the hall.
"Oh, so as long as it's not in your trash it doesn't count?" was the jab I got from Brian...which is what it may have seemed like, but I explained that since I had my trash can under my desk, the kids were no longer creating trash and I noticed from previous days that if I have even one piece of trash in my trash can, the entire bag is taken out to be disposed of. That's a waste of bags. So I figured if I had to make trash, I should seek out the trash cans that were already pretty full to cut back on that wastage. May seem like a cop-out on the whole "no trash" thing, but since I already feel that having absolutely no trash is impossible, I figured reducing the amount of waste was better than nothing.
Our high school principal, Maureen, agreed with me when I shared the story. She's one of the people participating in No Impact Week with me and we are both on the same page about one really big thing: This week is hard. She's been reusing the same coffee cup for the week, trying to cut back on her waste. But with things like transportation and food and even the consumption bit is just a really challenging thing. She said she's constantly catching herself and having to make adjustments.
I still wasn't able to get my carpool off the ground. This time, she forgot. And Friday, I can't as I'm leaving for Dallas once school gets out. I failed on Food Day yesterday. Energy, I'm pretty good at. I am pretty obsessive about lights not being on when they aren't needed. And today I was even more conscious in that if I was in the bathroom, my room lights were off. If I went back to my room, the bathroom lights went off. I tried to keep lights off in rooms I wasn't using at all times, even if it was only for a few minutes.
My roommate is overjoyed by this fact. Her response: Hey, it sounds like it'll save us some money! And my kids? They seem to like the dark classroom. So maybe we'll do the no lights thing more—perhaps not every day, but at least once a week.
When I did No Impact Week in January, I thought that water would be the easiest thing to reform and to keep up. Except, it turns out to be the easiest to take for granted.
I do a pretty good job of making sure the water isn't running aimlessly, except when I'm taking a shower. I do like the water to get pretty hot, and I tend to scrub myself until I feel no grime. And there is no way I'm taking a bath.
I had a conversation with one of my co-workers about No Impact Week during lunch. Since it was Friday, the week was basically over as far as school was concerned, so we were doing a casual recap of the week. Jess decided not to do No Impact Week. Not because she didn't care, but simply because she felt she already was doing all that she could do without going to the extreme. And for her No Impact Week would mean having to go the extreme. "I recycle, I use a reusable water bottle—but am I going to collect rainwater to bathe in or wash dishes? No. Am I going to make compost in my apartment? No."
I had spent a month in Nigeria at the beginning of the summer where I didn't have electricity each day, and some days I had just a bucket of water to take a bath in. I could do it with no complaints because that's just life in Nigeria. But is it ideal? Definitely not. And maybe it's being a spoiled American, but Jess and I kind of felt that ultimately having limited water is considered a bit of a subservient situation. And even people in those situations know that it's not ideal. They just have no other choice.
But that doesn't mean we don't care about the environment. The cool thing about No Impact Week is that it forced us to think about how much we care, and if there was room for improvement. For myself, there definitely is. For Jess, she felt she's already doing a great job. But there was a moment of self-reflection for each of us. And I think that's the main point of all of this.
The StuCo kids all wrote one thing they learned from participating in the No Impact Experiment. I can't wait to go through what they wrote and share it with y'all tomorrow!
Discover the benefits of service.
When I decided to get the school involved with No Impact Week, I had a beautiful vision of what today would look like. Either doing service around the school, or in the community, it would truly be ALL IN with teachers, students and parents working side by side, doing community service.
This vision died when I looked at my calendar and realized that I had a bridal shower in Dallas to attend. Also, leading up to this week—and even getting through this week—work has taken its toll on me. There's been a lot of work to get done and I barely had time to write this blog much less plan a service project.
But as a school, I'd say we do pretty well on giving back. Working at YES is all about giving back. In fact, YES stands for Youth Engaged in Service. And it started with a few people doing an after-school program from low-income kids. Now it's grown to 10 schools that serve the same demographic. The teachers and staff give their all on a daily basis to ensure that every student that comes through our doors can be prepared for college and prepared to have a better future. Our students are also required to do a certain number of community service hours each year. For the 6th graders, we actually spend a school day and go on a service trip to the Food Bank once every six weeks. Our first one was a few weeks ago, and it was awesome to see how excited the kids got about filling up bags of beans. We filled almost 4,500 bags—a number the kids are proud of and are hoping to beat the next time we go. If I was in Houston and able to plan a service project, I'm pretty positive there would have been lots of people eager to jump on board.
But being in Dallas doesn't mean I have to miss out on giving back altogether. Since tomorrow is the last Sunday of the month, my old church is doing its Serve Sunday. Serve Sunday was one of the reasons I loved my church in Dallas: Once a month, we'd spend the two hours we'd normally be in church doing something in the community. We've thrown a fall festival, cleaned out and decorated a new apartment for a family that lost theirs in a fire, and done landscaping and other maintenance and beautification projects around the school the church meets in.
I can't wait to be a part of it tomorrow. Since I can't really do the whole Eco-Sabbath (gotta drive back to Houston and then plan lessons, grade, and do other non-restful things), I at least get to still end my No Impact Week on a pretty good note!
No Impact Week is OVER! And I have to admit, I'm glad. It was actually a pretty stressful week. I felt bad about everything when I couldn't accomplish a challenge fully. And while I do know I can make improvements, not having the pressure of being 100 percent non-impactful should take away the stress of trying to change my habits.
It was a good week though—I had a lot of really interesting conversations with co-workers and friends surrounding No Impact. And hopefully everyone at YES Prep Southeast got stretched a little in their thinking when it comes to the environment.
I thought a great way to wrap up this blog was to share what the Student Council Kids felt they learned. After all, I did decide to do this for the kids.
"In living in this broken system, we see no change due to the capitalist hogs and the brain-washed individuals of our community. One by one we will be able to change our world for the better." -Elsih E., 17, 12th grader
"Our excessive consumption is self-harming. We are trashing the earth (or home) and also paying unnecessarily. Why waste so much money on unnecessary items?" -Alexia S., 17, 12th grader
"During No Impact Week, I learned that as Americans we consume so much, as well as throw away stuff, and it is just creating more pollution. I learned where all our trash ends up; most of it's not being re-used but burned and buried." -Symone R., 16, 11th grader
"I learned that we should stop using water bottles because it pollutes our earth, we should just use tap water." -Valerie M., 16, 11th grader
"I learned that I consume more trash than I thought. Also, that it's better to eat local grown food and that I may use a lot of water than the average person." -Juan C., 17, 12th grader
"What I learned is that all the stud that we have are created from natural resources and when we're through with them they end up in the trash after using them less than 6 weeks." -Nancy T., 16, 11th grader
"I learned that I am pretty average when it comes to using water, however I can do better by using less home products." -Hector C., 16, 11th grader
"I learned that tap water is cleaner than bottle water and it bottle water costs over $2000 more." -Ruben D., 16, 11th grader
"Tap water can be cleaner than bottled water and bottled water com[anise tend to advertise that tap water is harmful." -Alfredo Z., 17, 12th grader.
"In No Impact Week, I learned deeply about how a single person can affect the Earth. One of the biggest things that I learned is the necessity that humans need to make trash. I learned from this that humans are superficial and only care about themselves. I finally learned to make sure to attempt to prevent my trash even if I can't delete trash completely." -Jorge P., 14, 9th grader
"Reducing your trash everyday can make a change. We trash too much. Humans only consume things, but hardly every give back to the environment. Food: It takes a lot of energy and preservatives to ship food from far away. It is bad for your health and the environment. We waste a lot of energy by not unplugging appliances." -Oscar P., 14, 9th grader.
"This week I learned to be more conservative when it comes to throwing away things that can be reused." -Ramon A., 18, 12th grader.
"I learned that I produce a lot of trash in one day and in the United States we produce too much." -Adolio R., 17, 12th grader
"One thing I learned during No Impact Week was that it doesn't take much to make an impact. During this week, I tried to take faster showers to use less water, and I was still clean. It doesn't really take much to have an impact on the environment." -Suzette M., 15, 10th grader
Can I just say, from the mouths of babes. If I did nothing else right this week, I am proud that I was able to share this experience with others and create an impact by helping to educate others, especially some of the future generation. We'll see how next No Impact Week goes.