A Salt Lake City school has received a prestigious award for being environmentally friendly.
Bonneville Elementary this month received the Utah Society for Environmental Education's Green Schools Award for several efforts made during the 2011-2012 school year, including creating a student-performed opera about "going green."
"A lot of schools are doing amazing things and not getting recognized," said Josh Wennergren, green schools coordinator for USEE. He said the program is a way to shine light on the successes of schools like Bonneville, which was the only public school in Utah to receive the recognition.
Bonneville students have a long list of green accomplishments, but their most dramatic accomplishment last year was the original "go green opera extravaganza" they wrote and performed for the Children's Opera Showcase at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center in March 2011. And one third-grade class performed the opera at the Mayor's Green Schools Summit with Mayor Ralph Becker in April 2011.
Utah Opera provided the school with funding for the event, even supplying a composer, Masa Fukuda of the One Voice Children's Choir, to set their original lyrics to music and make a CD of the opera in his recording studio.
Third graders presented three different operas called "Healthy Choices," all focusing on different green-teaching scenarios including cleaning up trash after a soccer game and talking to "old mother tree" about watching out for the environment.
The students will never forget the experience, said third grade teacher Cynthia Norton.
"Anytime you sing a message it almost becomes a part of your soul," she said. "[It] keeps going through your mind and your heart."
The students really digested what they learned last school year, she said, adding the children are more aware of environmental issues.
"When people throw away things that should be recycled there is no way not to feel so guilty," wrote third grader Tommy Grant in a reflection of the experience. "Imagine what our earth will look like in 50 years , yes 50 years, if we do not recycle!"
In addition to the opera, the students made a recycled gifts boutique, creating a variety of recycled gifts from jewelry to wreaths to wallets. They went on to sell the materials and sent almost $2,000 in proceeds to support orphans in Ghana.
Another green initiative had kids running out of the classroom and onto the track. Every morning, students would start their school day with a walk or run in order to calculate mileage and see how far they could go without taking a car.
They ended up collectively running and walking 14,878 miles from August 26, 2011 to May 18, 2012.
"The kids learned that they love to get out and exercise," Norton said. "[Now] they feel like they don't have to have their parents drive them everywhere whenever they go out."
Students reflected on their green experiences at the close of the school year and wrote down how they felt about going green.
"I think that the morning mile is very useful for many reasons," wrote student Justin Kim. "First, it makes me feel good. I drink more water and eat vegetables. Next, exercise gives me energy. I feel and look good. Finally, my brain works better. I understand math easier. These are the many reasons why I like the morning mile."
The green experiences have been empowering, Norton said, and as the school continues its green pursuits the students believe that nothing can stop them from changing the world.
"I had never realized that there was a whole other world on reduce, reuse and recycle," said student Hailey Williams. "Mrs. Norton [has] helped me learn how to do that. She has helped me save the earth."