LINCOLN — Central Elementary School fourth-grader Maggie Cabana didn't want to let down her fellow students, so she decided to prepare her Wednesday lunch the night before.
“I made it at about 7:30 (p.m.); I made my peanut butter crackers, strawberries and an orange with the peel taken off, then put them all in plastic containers,” she admitted. “I did it so I wouldn't forget anything. I was scared that I'd put it into plastic bags. I didn't want to forget that's against the rules (for this lunch).”
Turns out, Cabana's schoolmates paid similar close attention as to how they packaged their meals for Central Elementary's first-ever “Waste-Free Lunch Period,” the brainchild of Beth Halliwell's 23-member fourth-grade class, held Wednesday.
Her students, not Halliwell, previously had asked others in the fourth and fifth grades to join them in their endeavor to keep trash absent from this particular mealtime. The prize for doing so: A “community special edition green paw” to hang on their “Good Conduct” board stationed inside each classroom for the rest of the school year.
(It should be noted that all paws, those of different colors and earned for amiable, correct behaviors as a class, usually are placed on the board only for a month or two at a time).
According to Halliwell, the plan to utilize Tupperware and like washable containers went over superbly, beyond her wildest expectations.
Her students, not to mention the two other fourth grades taught by Karen Costa and Sandy Goyette, were “wasteless,” as were Jeff Drolet's and Danielle Cahill's fifth-grade classes.
“I thought for sure some of the kids would forget their plastic containers, but they didn't; I'm amazed,” Halliwell laughed. “I didn't think so many would remember. Five of the six classes who participated received green paws, so this was almost a total success.”
She wasn't the only one to think so. Superintendent of Schools Georgia Fortunato paid a visit to this special lunch, and admitted being ecstatic about how conscientious the students seemed.
“I'm thrilled; kudos to Mrs. Halliwell's class for giving these students an opportunity to truly go 'green' and help save the environment,” Fortunato offered as she looked over the cafeteria at about 12:20 p.m.
“This is great because this information needs to start with young children, as they're our future leaders. This is when they should be taught about recycling and becoming green.”
Stated Drolet: “When the kids first came to our class with this idea, I thought it was phenomenal. It empowers the kids to make decisions that impact the school and the community in which they live as a whole. We're at 100 percent (the number of students who brought in their parents' Tupperware).
“I actually had one kid who, instead of taking a hot-lunch, styrofoam tray, he put what they were serving on his own washable plate,” he continued. “To me, for an elementary school to do this, it's as good as it gets because the kids are seeing the results today. There's less waste, less bags, being toted out of here.”
At one point, the fourth- and fifth-grade students became so excited about what they were doing, the noise in the cafeteria reached a “fever pitch.
“I really appreciate your enthusiasm,” she told all through a microphone, “but we need to keep the same volume as we always do in here.”
That said, the noise settled to a dull roar. That's when Halliwell confessed that she wouldn't “count the milk cartons against them because it's part of the hot lunch program, and the same goes for the fruit and vegetable plastic containers. Still, no napkins and bags are allowed.”
Simply put, the students were told not to bring in crackers, chips, fruit, vegetables, etc. in plastic bags, or use plastic itensils; they instead had to utilize plastic containers and silverware, those that could be washed.
If anyone didn't – or couldn't – finish their meals, they could put the leftovers back into the bowls, or whatever, and eat them later.
Halliwell indicated the school has five lunch periods per day, and research by her students revealed three bags are tossed out into the dumpster per lunch. They found that 15-16 are thrown out each day, and wanted to significantly reduce that number.
“I got a hot lunch, and it's waffle sticks with an egg and tater tots, but I brought in a plate to put them on,” explained fifth-grader Tyler McNulty. “I also had my maple syrup put into this little bowl so I could dip the waffle pieces in. Look! I even brought my own (metal) fork!”
(Naturally, he chose to use his fingers instead).
“We're doing this so we can help save the environment,” he added. “I think this is good, because it's great for the community, and even better for the landfills.”
Timothy Cullen, another of Drolet's students, mentioned he had cut up his hot dog into pieces and placed them in his Thermos all by himself, then put his strawberries and “Scooby” fruit snacks into others.
“I even brought a tiny plastic container so I could have ketchup with my hot dog,” he beamed. “This is good because the dump is becoming full, and we need to preserve the trees and birds. We need to lessen our amount of trash.”
Seconds after finishing his “Fluffernutter” with chips and coffee milk, all in Tupperware-like items, Nicholas Villanova revealed this special lunch will “help save space in the United States. We won't need to have as many landfills, and I think animals and birds will have a better life without all that pollution.”
Halliwell designated some of her students to act as “trash police,” and they walked with clipboards from table to table to check if everyone had followed the rules.
“Nobody forgot their Tupperware, not at my tables,” Halliwell's fourth grader Aiden Bridges stated proudly. “I know we got our green paw, and it feels great! It will stay on our good conduct board the entire year, and this is the only time we can do that.”
Allison Plante, another fourth grader who played the role of “trash police,” mentioned she walked up to the janitor and asked him if the students made his job easier.
“He just said, 'What do you think?'” she claimed, “then he pointed in the barrel. There was only this much.”
She then placed her hands three inches apart.
Central Elementary, indeed, had gone green, if only for a day.