In observance of President's Day, we are closed on Monday, February 19, 2024.

At The Wesley School, a dynamic composting program is turning food waste into a tool for teaching kids about climate action, fostering hope and empowerment.

In a novel approach to climate education, The Wesley School in Los Angeles has initiated a composting program involving students from kindergarten to eighth grade. This initiative focuses on transforming food waste into compost, serving as a practical lesson in combating human-driven climate change. Over the past year, the school has successfully diverted all its food waste from landfills, where it would have contributed to the production of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, by decomposing.

Jennifer Silverstein, a therapist and member of the Climate Psychology Alliance of North America, lauds the program for providing positive and effective climate education. It shifts the narrative from despair to active participation in solutions. In October of the current year, the school celebrated the unveiling of the compost within five-foot-tall containers, a moment of excitement and curiosity for the students.

The composting initiative started in 2022 and has since diverted 5,200 pounds of food waste from landfills, significantly reducing methane emissions. Science teacher Johnna Hampton-Walker emphasizes the importance of visibility in these initiatives. She believes that making the process visible helps students internalize the importance of their actions in waste management.

"Instead of [teaching kids] just, 'all these horrible things are happening,' it's like, 'all these horrible things are happening, and there's all these adults out there who are really actively trying to make it better. And here's ways you can participate,'" Silverstein says.

According to NPR, the involvement in the composting process has had a profound impact on the students. Sixth grader Finn, for example, expressed a personal connection to the compost pile, recognizing his own food waste's contribution. The school plans to use the compost for campus plants, offer it to families, and donate the remainder.

The composting assignments in Johnna Hampton-Walker's science class included creating graphs and other educational activities. Students, like fifth grader Kingston, felt empowered knowing their actions were positively impacting the environment. This empowerment is a key objective of the program, as noted by composting consultant Steven Wynbrandt. He stresses the importance of addressing the feelings of overwhelm and powerlessness that children often feel regarding the climate crisis.

Therapist Jennifer Silverstein highlights the need to build youth's tolerance to distressing information about climate change. Engaging in outdoor, nature-related activities and collective action can be beneficial during these tough conversations. The impact of the program is evident in the actions of students like fifth grader Sloan, who, along with classmates, organized a lemonade stand to raise funds for the Natural Resources Defense Council and advocated for sustainable practices in their school.

The program's success is not just in waste management but in instilling a sense of responsibility and hope in the students. Fifth grader Leo expresses how being part of the composting program helps him feel optimistic about the future. The school continues to manage the composting process, with plans to open additional containers in the new year, continuing this cycle of sustainable practice and environmental education.

Eunice is a sustainability writer whose passion is sharing accessible eco-friendly practices with GreenCitizen's global readership. She enjoys birdwatching during her downtime, often deriving inspiration from nature's resilience. An enthusiastic cyclist, she is also an ardent advocate of eco-friendly transport.

Subscribe to
our newsletter