Libby Flach, Tristen Clack and Ace Beattie combine compost buckets filled with apple cores destined for their compost bins.  Prime compost collected by LPHS freshmen.

One student’s trash...

Lone Peak High freshmen take on composting

Gathering buckets of half-eaten apple cores might not seem like a savory task for some, but for the students in Kate Eisele’s freshman science class, it was a duty they took on without complaint on a sunny Wednesday afternoon.

Eisele’s ninth graders recently started a new composting project at Big Sky School District, working with Food Service Director Lindsie Hurlbut who provides food prep scraps and leftovers from the school kitchen. The young scientists then gather the scraps from her and bring them out to two compost bins located outside the LPHS gym.

It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s gotta do it, and so far, Eisele has had no trouble finding students to sign up for the task.

The idea for the smelly-yet-satisfying science project originated three years ago when Eisele joined the BSSD team. Lone Peak High School Principal Alex Ide approached her about running a composting project through the school’s EcoClub, but those students just weren’t ready to tackle a project of that magnitude. Flash forward to last school year, and composting was still on Eisele’s mind. 

She knew how to compost, so she understood how much work goes into doing it successfully. That means not only collecting food waste, but logging how much goes into the bin, adding sawdust—which brings carbon to the mix—and water as needed, mixing the slop, and so on. Fortunately, the school already had two compost bins that had been procured by past students. Lacking compost fairies to do the leg work, Eisele just needed a few helping hands. 

That’s where her freshmen science students come in. As it turned out, her students were eager to take on the task. Following a recent apple core drop off, and subsequent logging of what waste and how much sawdust had been added to the compost bin, freshmen Carli Wilson and classmate Dani Cristando were happy to chat about their new hands-on science project.

“I really find it interesting, how all this trash and stuff that we’ve been so used to wasting and just throwing away can be put to good use, to make something better like soil that can help our environment,” Cristando said. 

Wilson agreed, adding, “I always knew about composting, but I never knew what it actually did, that it actually creates new soil.” 

Back in the lunchroom kitchen, Hurlbut is equally happy to set aside food prep scraps for the compost bins, which the class decided to name Mia and Johnny. But the ultimate goal is to get all the students schooled on what can and cannot be composted so they can separate their lunch leftovers for composting as well. To that end, Eisele’s students are working on a public service announcement for the school newscast as well as posters to get the word out. 

And then there’s the end product. In a few months or so, all their hard work should pay off in the form of pay dirt, if you will. Looking forward, Eisele said another goal is to use the soil at a school greenhouse and garden. In the meantime, the compost soil will be donated to Big Sky Landscaping’s greenhouse. 

The students may be only a few weeks into the project, but Eisele said she’s thrilled with the interest. 

“They’ve really taken ownership,” said Eisele as she headed from her classroom to the lunchroom where several of her students rehearsed lines for their composting PSA. Some have even asked if they could continue working with the compost after they’re done with the class as part of their junior community service project. 

Eisele sees many benefits to classroom composting—the students learn how to solve real-world problems as they monitor their compost’s progress, they learn how to work together to reach a common goal, and ultimately, the project’s outcome is a tangible product, much more than a letter grade on a report card.

And Eisele is learning right along with them, inspired, she said, by her colleague Jeremy Harder who at the school’s recent Tech Summit encouraged BSSD teachers to “make learning messy again.” 

“I’m learning to let go of the reins and let my students be in charge,” she said. “My ninth graders’ attitude and actions in this project have given me the courage to do more messy learning service projects in all of my classes.”

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