For the Chickering School in Dover, Mass., “go green” has become more than just a slogan for one month out of the year. And while there’s always plenty of learning going on, the Dover PTO has given the entire school community a different lesson on the three R’s: Reduce, reuse, and recycle.

The PTO kicked off its environmental efforts at the fall festival in September, where each student received a reusable water bottle printed with the school’s name and families could buy plastic recycling bins for home use. A few weeks later, the PTO planned a schoolwide assembly featuring a musical group that plays instruments made of recycled materials, such as a plastic bottle panpipe and a straw kazoo.

“How many times can you tell them to turn the light off when they leave the room? It just gives you a platform to have that conversation,” says president Dana White. “I think it’s been a good dialogue for the whole town and for the school in particular to be having.”

The parent group also carried the message through its own activities. Instead of the traditional fall wrapping paper fundraiser, for example, leaders opted to sell products that can be reused, such as Tupperware and canvas grocery bags.

“Year after year, wrapping paper has been a big fundraiser for us, but we decided this year with the ‘go green’ theme that we just wanted to do something different,” White says.

Students play an important role in the PTO’s environmental efforts. A 3rd grade classroom oversees plastic bottle recycling, and the PTO provides the student council with recycling tips to share during morning announcements. Scout troops occasionally help Becky Gladstone, the recycling committee chairwoman and a member of the Dover Recycling Committee, deliver bags to the town’s transfer station.

The PTO also used creative methods to reduce its own consumption. The group switched to electronic communications for newsletters and event notices to cut down on paper. And parents don’t have to drive to school to participate in meetings—they can dial in by phone. In addition, several parents formed an energy task force, which has been exploring cost-effective solutions to cool the school.

But the “go green” initiative is about more than saving money and energy. Chickering principal Kirk Downing told Gladstone about a conversation he had with a group of students; when he asked them what they had been doing to make the school a better place, one kid said, “We recycle!”

“They see what they’re doing can make a difference,” Gladstone says.

The Group
Dover PTO at the Chickering School, Dover, Mass.

School size: 600 students, grades K-5
Annual earnings: $60,000
Fundraisers: Sales of reusable products, auction, check-writing campaign, collection programs
Mission statement: The Dover PTO strengthens the Chickering community by enabling communication, providing volunteers, and raising money for projects such as curriculum enrichment, classroom support, and community-building.

Going Green
Making environmental awareness a priority for the entire school.

Reducing: Plastic bottles posed a big problem at the Chickering School. “The bins were overflowing, especially around party time,” says Becky Gladstone, PTO recycling committee chairwoman. Since the PTO distributed reusable water bottles, students have been buying and recycling fewer plastic ones.

Recycling: The PTO placed bins for paper and plastic in each classroom and collected aluminum, glass, and more from the teachers’ lounge. An outside company picks up the paper, but a parent takes the rest of the recyclables to the town’s transfer station.

Educating: In addition to a schoolwide assembly, in which musicians played instruments made from reused or recycled materials, the PTO spread the “go green” message with an evening program for families and talked with students on America Recycles Day, Nov. 15.

Collaborating: The Dover PTO coordinates its efforts with the Dover Recycling Committee and set up collection points for cell phones, box tops, and ink-jet cartridges at the market and the Council on Aging. “It’s fun to bring the school and the town closer together,” says president Dana White.