Having learned in school about the dangers of single-use plastic and its impact on landfills and the environment, fourth grader Valentina P. thought that her school cafeteria could help with the issue in a positive way. She wrote a letter to members of the Board of Education, the school principal and superintendent explaining why single-use plastic cutlery was harmful and offered suggestions as to how the Pocantico Hills Central School District could do better.
“Here’s an example of what single use plastic can do, the plastic can block the digestive tract of an animal, resulting in death,” her letter says in part. “Animals with [a] stomach full of plastic have no urge to eat, and they die of starvation,” the letter continued.
Her solutions included using metal cutlery or having students bring their own from home.
“I hope you consider looking into this matter and using a solution,” Valentina’s letter concluded.
Her letter did make a difference. The school cafeteria has since limited the amount of single-use plastic cutlery students have access to and has made metal cutlery available. Other improvements have been made at the school too.
Superintendent Richard Calkins and Principal Adam Brown were both very proud of Valentina’s commitment to the issue.
“We had a discussion at the BOE level regarding this and they too were not only impressed but pledged immediate action,” Mr. Calkins said. “One small, but visible and important step they took was to commit to not having single use plastic at the board meetings, especially in relation to water.”
Now Mr. Calkins said all board members, at the suggestion of Trustee Joseph McGrath, bring re-useable, self-fill water bottles and have taking to reminding one another of the importance of these steps.
“They are very proud of Valentina and know that this is also representative of the feelings and concerns of many of her classmates,” Mr. Calkins said of the board.
In addition, the school has placed recycling bins throughout the school and is in the process of transitioning, as much as possible, to paper products in the school cafeteria.
Mr. Brown shared the superintendent’s admiration for the letter and its writer.
“Mr. Calkins and I were both so impressed by Valentina – not only her advocacy, but her ability to articulate her position with genuinely positive energy and spirit,” he said. “The first thing I did was find her to tell her how excited I was to receive her letter and tell her how proud I was of her sharing her position in such a mature way.”
“From there, the administrative team made a commitment together with our kitchen and cafeteria staff to figure out a solution in the spirit of Valentina’s letter, which we did,” Mr. Brown explained. “And we’ve continued to shrink our footprint, one “step” at a time.”
“I just think it matters,” Valentina said. “I kind of feel proud,” she added of having made a difference at her school.