SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – Students at the Springfield Renaissance School finished off a big project Thursday with a press conference debuting new sustainable equipment in the lunch room.

These new biodegradable lunch trays will now be used at Springfield Renaissance School thanks to serious activism and problem solving by 9th and 10th grade students.

The school is an expeditionary learning school, which means each 9th grade class picks a societal issue that speaks to them and studies it across all their courses. As part of the study, they are challenged to solve the problem, handling every phase from research through advocacy.

Last year’s class investigated sustainability in the lunch room, learned about plastics, their chemistry and their affect on the environment.

“We dug through trash, we counted it, we sorted it, we took pictures of it,” said Environmental Science Teacher John Donovan.

Once they had the data they needed, their 9th grade year ended with advocacy… sending 90 letters to the district’s food service partners and school administrators, getting the attention of Superintendent Daniel Warwick.

“He was appalled by the fact that our high school alone goes through more than 281 styrofoam trays every single day. Four weeks ago, Sodexo announced they would be switching to biodegradable trays,” said Ama Sarpong, a 10th grade student.

That meeting led to talks with Sodexo itself, covering all the practical hurdles and costs associated with solving this problem.

The trays are in use now at the school but there’s already more change on the horizon. This year’s 9th graders are taking this a step further, beginning research on how to reduce food waste at lunch and how to make sure that these compostable trays don’t end up alongside their styrofoam predecessors in landfills.

“We also throw out an embarrassing amount of food waste every day. We also learned that while we do have these new amazing paper trays, we also will be throwing them away into landfills,” said 9th grader student Kaylie Meneses Roblero.

The expeditionary work of these students serves as a national model for the expeditionary learning program.

Local News

Duncan MacLean is a reporter who has been a part of the 22News team since 2019. Follow Duncan on X @DMacLeanWWLP and view his bio to see more of his work.