Basura Cero: Take Two

Over the last couple of months since the end of our Basura Cero project, we have been thinking about the outcomes, and how to improve the project this year. The district superintendent approached us about possibilities of project expansion, and we were excited to take on the challenge. So, we got to work asking teachers for suggestions on changes they wanted to see, and preparing to start up again.

That brings us up to February. While we were collecting feedback, we were hard at work changing rules, thinking about a new prize, and how cool it would be to have a competition with 10, maybe even 20 schools in the district. It was around this point that we really started to look at and follow up on the teacher’s feedback: “Please don’t have another competition,” “We want to continue to work with trash, but not as a competition,” “Too much time and effort out of the school day” …and more such comments.

We were a bit shell-shocked. We were sure we would have comments of “Let’s do it again!” Regardless, we thought maybe with the changes that we made, the teachers would think differently. So, we went into a superintendent meeting with 18 principals ready to sell our project. And… it was ok. They all agreed to a visit to their school so we could better understand their situation and maybe talk about a project.

While a little disappointed we didn’t get the reaction that we were hoping, we prepared to visit the schools. As we approached our first visit, we knew we needed to listen to what the teachers wanted, as much as we wanted to continue this competition.

We were again reminded that listening is such an important skill, and we need to continually work on it. In our first school meeting, we listened to what the teachers didn’t like about the competition, and why they didn’t want a competition again (this was the school that won by the way. We thought if anyone would want to participate, it would be this one). They explained that there is very low funding for the schools, and even a project such as painting trash cans can be very difficult without financial support. So, we listened and asked questions. Some of the teachers reinforced that they felt environmental education was still very important, and that they still wanted to continue to work with us this upcoming year. And throughout this conversation, a new idea emerged. As we talked further, the idea of a “green school certification” came up. We could use similar requirements as were in the original project, but instead of having the focus be on schools competing against each other, they would be working within the institution to reach one of the certification levels. The core learnings and idea behind our original project were revamped so that they fit the needs and wants of the teachers and schools in our community. We left rejuvenated – and so thankful for the dedicated educators in our community.

The basic idea is that instead of a competition between schools, each individual school would work to earn the title of “Green School.” This can be done through similar projects of last year – classifying trash, using a compost, having a school garden, etc. But all in a way that creates less work for the teachers, and fewer expenses. It’s a different project, but (hopefully) with the same results. We created 3 levels of certification, named after Paraguayan native trees (Tataré, Yvyra Pyta, and Tajy). Each level would require a little more work than the previous, but a school would only need to reach the first level to be a “green school.” We brought this new project plan back to the principals and teachers that only a week or so before had not been fans of the project, and the response was so positive.

There was a lot to reflect on in this process. We were not stepping back to look at the whole picture – we don’t work in the schools or have a full understanding of the day-to-day. We don’t work with the budgets, the state requirements, etc. We were blinded by the successes that we saw last year, that we didn’t stop to think about the burdens it may have put on the teachers and staff. With the teachers able to dictate how the project would be completed this year, we were able to set up a better project, that we couldn’t have developed on our own.

To date, we have presented the project to 10 schools that would like it to participate in one way or another and have more initial visits to plan. We have met new contacts, new students, and are excited to continue seeing the hard work of all of these schools. Our first phase of the plan is working to get each of the schools set up with a compost and working with trash classification and school gardens. From there, we will let the schools choose which projects they would like to complete, and when and how we can be of assistance. The project will last for the full school year (almost until the end of our service!) and we will be handing out certifications to all of the schools that participate.

Takeaways: Stay humble. Listen more. Keep hustlin’.

And now here’s some pictures of the roses in our patio and our cat playing with a mouse.

Much love to you all,

Dylan and Alli

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