Seeing Green: Students and faculty strive to decrease school’s adverse impact on Earth

JUNIORS+RAFFI+TOGHRAMADJIAN+AND+DIANE+HUANG+weigh+one+of+their+tilapia+from+their+aquaponics+system.+%E2%80%9CI+don%E2%80%99t+think+SPA+itself+should+have+an+aquaponic+system%2C+but+maybe+the+catering+company+could+look+into+buying+some+of+its+produce+from+aquaponic+farms%2C%E2%80%9D+Toghramadjian+suggested.+

Amodhya Samarakoon

JUNIORS RAFFI TOGHRAMADJIAN AND DIANE HUANG weigh one of their tilapia from their aquaponics system. “I don’t think SPA itself should have an aquaponic system, but maybe the catering company could look into buying some of its produce from aquaponic farms,” Toghramadjian suggested.

Everyday, students fill up water bottles at drinking fountains, compost food during lunch, and recycle papers. Although students may not realize it, their routine actions benefit the earth.
However, there are still many other opportunities for students to be involved in protecting the environment at school.

One way students can express their interest in protecting the environment is through student groups and science electives. In these settings, students are exposed to environmental problems that they may not be aware of now.

We talk a lot about different issues in history class and chemistry class and sometimes I think that there is room there to talk about the history of environmental issues [too].”

— senior Ora Hammel, PEP Co-President

In the Environmental Science elective, students discover ways that the community can decrease human impact on the environment. In one of the labs the class conducted, students studied the forest near St. Catherine University. Students retrieved data on how healthy the land was and what factors in the surroundings affected the soil quality.

President of People for Environmental Protection Ora Hammel is very involved in raising the community’s awareness about conserving the Earth’s resources. She helped organize projects such as the rain garden in SPA’s backyard last year.

The rain garden helps slow stormwater and prevent erosion. Another project that PEP took on regards the composting system in the lunchroom, which was improved last year.

“We first attempted to stand at the trash cans to try to get people to compost and throw away their waste correctly. That didn’t work, so then the lunchroom got the new [setup]… it worked out really well,” Hammel said.

Hammel also believes that integrating environmental issues into other academic subjects would help.

“We talk a lot about different issues in history class and chemistry class and sometimes I think that there is room there to talk about the history of environmental issues [too],” Hammel said.

Junior Raffi Toghramadjian currently is conducting an experiment in the Advanced Science Research elective about Aquaponics in Minnesota. Aquaponics is a system that disposes waste using nutrients from fish or other aquatic animals.

In an Aquaponics system, fish and plants maintain a symbiotic relationship. While the fish waste offers an organic food source for the plants, the plants filter the water and provide a clean environment for the fish to live in.

By growing plants without soil, the dependence on soil quality won’t get in the way of production. Aquaponics also offers a solution to problems associated with traditional soil-based gardening such as the amount of water required, animal intrusion, and weeds.

“I don’t think SPA itself should have an aquaponic system, but maybe the catering company could look into buying some of its produce from aquaponic farms,” Toghramadjian suggested.

Regarding the facilities scattered throughout SPA, Facility and Safety Manager Peter Kilibarda ensures that Operations continues to pursue initiatives to transform SPA into a more environmentally friendly building.

In collaboration with Xcel Energy, SPA ensures that the equipment located throughout the school conserves as much energy as possible while being affordable and efficient as well. LED lights, T5 lights, and T8 lights comprise SPA’s lighting system.

The school turns the lights and heating in common areas off after everyone leaves. In addition, Drake Arena is powered by batteries so there aren’t any harmful emissions.

Operations hopes to install an automation system in the future to control the usage of energy and obtain the specific energy usage through a network of interconnected sensors and controllers. Kilibarda also hopes to replace all the old equipment, such as the air handling units and small lighting upgrades, so that less energy can be used to power them.

Students should not only discuss and learn about environmental issues, but they should also take action. Whether it’s not wasting food, recycling, or turning off the lights when no one’s using them, every effort contributes to the cause, no matter how small.