K-12 Education

Marion elementary students get hands-on in eliminating food waste

Composting project established as part of curriculum

Fifth-grader Lauren Castor dumps fruit into a bucket destined for the compost pile at Echo Hill Elementary in Marion on
Fifth-grader Lauren Castor dumps fruit into a bucket destined for the compost pile at Echo Hill Elementary in Marion on Monday, Nov. 13, 2017. Students at the school have started separating recyclables, trash and compostable materials after lunch. The compost will be used in the school’s garden. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

MARION — Students at a Linn-Mar Community School District elementary school are getting a hands-on approach to environmental science while learning to be good stewards of the Earth.

Since the first weeks of the school year, fifth-grade students at Echo Hill Elementary have been participating in an on-site composting project installed by their teacher over the summer.

Andrew Allen, a learning enrichment opportunities teacher for Echo Hill and Wilkins elementary schools, started the program as part of a unit on environmental science.

“We do this unit called ‘planet problems’ where we talk about the seven steps of waste management, how we can be better stewards of the Earth and how we can really take care of the Earth all together. Within it, we talk about composting,” Allen said.

Food scraps and yard waste currently make up about 30 percent of what Americans throw away, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Composting serves as an alternative to landfills, and the organic material is an added benefit to soil for plant growth.

Echo Hill’s compost bin is tucked away behind the building, near the community garden.

About three days a week, fifth-graders line up after lunch and dump leftover food into compost buckets. The contents of the buckets are then tossed into the compost bin, along with any yard waste that is brought to the school by Allen and his students.

Allen said the fifth-graders will be managing the project throughout the school year, and the compost eventually will be used in the school’s garden or donated to local homes.


“(The fifth-graders) are really taking an active role in it, and they really have embraced it,” Allen said.

The project was funded with $350 in grants from Hills Bank and the Lin-Mar Foundation, Allen said, as well as donations from community businesses.

Thanks to these donations, Allen said the project cost $50 total. The rest would be used for future repairs and maintenance of the bins.

Allen said the project was spurred by his students last year, who wanted to create their own composting bin during the unit.

“My fifth-graders last year really got into composting and they really wanted to start a composting bin at school, but due to time we just couldn’t get it done last year,” he said.

Allen also has plans to introduce more grades to the composting project this year. Fourth-graders should start working with the project — under the guidance of the older students — sometime after Thanksgiving.

Slowly, Allen said he hopes to bring on all grades to be a part of the effort by February.

“It gets everyone involved, and it builds good school community,” Allen said.

l Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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