After months of hard work, armed with two EcoRise grants and plenty of initiative, the students in Dr. Shannon McPherson’s Eco-Audit class at Cedar Park High School in Austin, Texas proudly invited their school community to hear and see their success on April 1st, 2016.
“It started off small, now we have thirty students in the class,” McPherson said in her introduction. “And I have put them to work in that garden! And we have painted and we have scrubbed, and we cleaned, and we have done research, and they’ve had to dig in the trash…they love that!”
Dressed in business casual, the students first took their guests on a walking tour of their newly-installed campus projects: trash and recycling bins labeled and color-coded, a hallway display about their garden for campus education, and of course, the garden itself.
As the morning rain lifted, students pointed out water catchment tanks and compost bins, the vegetable plots and fruit trees, blooming bluebonnet patches and butterfly habitats. Natural beauty in the garden blended with the students’ own creative talents – colorful artwork and inspirational quotes decorated the planting beds, interspersed with flowers made of recycled bottles and painted birdhouses.
“Students worked a little bit on the first [EcoRise Eco-Audit grant], but the second grant they worked very hard on…which has been instrumental in making some changes,” McPherson said. “The second was mostly for the garden and the first was mostly for the recycle bins.”
The annual Eco-Audit Grant Program provides funds to K-12 students working on ‘green school’ projects. Micro-grants of up to $500 are awarded for activities such as public awareness campaigns, demonstration projects, and campus improvement. Multiple grants are available if applying students have completed one or more audits of water, food, waste, energy, or another aspect of school sustainability.
At Cedar Park, the lead student presenters explained their team’s organization, methods and findings for audits on water, waste and energy at their school, as well as the needs for campus education and green spaces. They described their completed projects and cost-saving strategies, but also called for further permission from school officials and the district to allow more student access to information and areas of campus – such as cafeterias and water systems – so that audits could be more thoroughly done. With this level of student professionalism, it was easy to forget that these were high-schoolers, and not a group of young consultants.
“We believe that if we can educate the students on what to recycle, what to throw away and everything, we can work together to have a healthier campus,” a member of the presentation panel said.
In attendance were Cedar Park High School teachers, Leander ISD officials and community members, including Principal John Sloan, Leander ISD Superintendent Bret Champion, and EcoRise Board Chairman Bungane Mehlomakulu. They all participated in what the students called “the entertainment portion” of the presentation, guessing at mysterious items hidden in numbered bags and whether they were recyclable, biodegradable or neither.
Sharing refreshments with their audience afterwards, students discussed their personal and college ambitions as a result of the Eco-Audit, plus plans to get their findings to a wider audience.
“We’re trying to make a video so we can hopefully get it on the WolfCast [campus communications],” responded the student Q&A panel. “We have a group in our class – Public Relations – that we’ve set to be able to reach the people…making sure that everybody understands what we’re trying to do.”
For more about EcoRise’s Eco-Audit Grant Program, visit: