Spring, 2013


The Prep campus is green and getting greener thanks to the work of a cadre of teachers, students, and staff who are passionate about sustainability.

The school has long been focused on energy efficiency and pooling resources, but recent projects have the campus taking a deeper look at how it can reduce, reuse, and recycle.

In the summer of 2011, Nick Ponticello and Sarah Smock ‘04 embarked on a professional development journey that has shaped the way they teach, as well as the way they look at the world.

Close friends and colleagues, the pair enrolled in two sustainability-focused summer classes at UCLA with strikingly different expectations.

Ponticello, who earned his bachelor’s in math and astrophysics from UC Berkeley, has always been interested in the environment and hoped to integrate sustainability-related applications into his classroom.

Smock, who earned her bachelor’s in bioengineering at UC San Diego, was somewhat of a skeptic. She had viewed environmental issues as overblown and was ready to look at the often-politicized issues in an academic light.

When the class was finished, Smock and Ponticello felt compelled to use what they learned to help take Prep’s commitment to sustainability
to a higher level.

“When we got back to school in the fall, we immediately created sustainability initiatives to make the Prep campus more focused on the environment,” Ponticello says.

Smock was no longer a skeptic. “This is one of the biggest long-term issues of our time” she says. “It’s a slow change with big impacts.”

Thinking green

Ponticello and Smock started with paper. The pair started counting photo copies from the printers in the faculty workroom and in the library.

“We wanted to raise awareness about how much paper we were using,” Ponticello says. “We posted counts near the printers and encouraged double-sided printing.”

Acting Locally Thinking Globally

The technology department has since set double-sided printing as the default—teachers, students, and staff have to manually change presets if they want to use extra paper. Smock encourages her students to complete assignments and homework on scrap paper and has asked other teachers to do the same.

Next came bike racks, which Smock and Ponticello requested and quickly received. The facilities department installed bike racks that have been put to good use by students and faculty who ride their bikes to school.

Finally, the two teachers looked at ways Prep could encourage recycling on campus. Ponticello and Smock toured the school’s waste management company, Athens, and determined that the company’s system of separating recyclable materials from trash is not perfect. Trash that is too wet—typically from rain or other waste—is sent to the landfills, and some of the recyclables go with it.

They realized that setting up separate recycling bins for bottles and cans would catch more recycled waste. This would also teach students to make the active choice for recycling.

The two teachers established a partnership with Real Green Recycling. The non-profit organization comes as needed to pick up the campus’ bottles and cans, and it gives the school the proceeds.

Not afraid of getting their hands dirty, Smock and Ponticello stay after school once every few weeks to gather up the recyclables. While Real Green picks up the bottles and cans for free, it’s up to Ponticello, Smock, and other volunteers to gather the bags from the five bins on campus and schedule the pickups.

Ponticello and Smock are in the process of applying for the Keep America Beautiful Public Space Recycling Bin Program, a grant that’s sponsored by Coca-Cola. The grant would pay for 12 high-quality recycling bins that would replace the five temporary bins that Real Green provided.

Digging deeper

Prep’s environmental conscience doesn’t stop with recycling. In the fall, seven seniors enrolled in the school’s firstEnvironmental Science class with Heather Clark, who also teaches chemistry.

Clark earned her bachelor’s in environmental science from Wellesley College and her master’s in environmental chemistry from the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale.

Acting Locally Thinking Globally

“In its first year, the class is a thoughtful survey,” she says. “I wanted to focus on breadth over depth, so I can introduce a lot of the hot topics related to the environment. Overall, we’re focusing on thinking critically and analyzing the roots of issues—looking at the ins and outs of problems and starting to think about solutions.”

Thus far, students have learned about global energy markets, local sustainable agriculture, and watershed management. They’re out in the community touring landfills, collecting and presenting original water quality data to local nonprofits, and organizing campus Earth Day activities.

Maddi Brady ’13 says the class has opened her eyes to the evolving problems the world will face over the next few decades.

“If we want to survive, we have to do something,” she says.

Outside of class, Clark says she sees that the small group of students is passionate about sharing its knowledge with the rest of the Prep community.

Dylan Arya ’13 says he senses a change on campus, as students are starting to think more about how their actions—from drinking out of plastic bottles to leaving water running—affect the world around them.

“Environmental issues are on the radar more than they were before,” he says. “It’s something that’s being talked about on campus.”

— Bailey Shiffler