Apparently the word “spork” was coined in the late 19th century in the United States to refer to a spoon that has three or four tines cut into its round section so that it can be used as either a fork or a spoon. This multi-use form of cutlery is commonly used by the military, in prisons, schools and in fast-food restaurants, institutions that attempt to feed many people as efficiently as possible. At my son Theo’s school, the kids who eat the “cafeteria” food, are given plastic sporks to eat with, so in their lives, the spork is as common as a spoon or a fork. These plastic ones are, of course, meant to be disposed of after a single use, but his school’s recycling program – the Green Dragons – makes sure they are cleaned and saved for exciting recycled art projects, like the model of a dragon the principal’s daughter made last year. One of the high points of my week is to go in and help the kids recycle their lunchtime waste. Once a week, I head over to the school at noon and check in at the front office with Carmin and Karina (see April 14), the school administrators who are the interface between the parents and the teaching staff.
Carmin has worked at our school for five years now, exactly the same amount of time that our family has been part of the school’s community, and over the years, we have enjoyed many friendly chats at lunchtime when I’m passing through or whenever I’ve had to fill out a sick-day form for Theo or bring by some homework or jacket he has forgotten in the morning. Carmin makes dealing with the issue much more pleasant. She always looks bright, cheerful and glamorous, no matter what she has been going through – and she has been through a lot in the time that I’ve known her. Most memorably, her close co-worker, who was also young and vivacious became seriously ill and passed away a couple of years ago. It was a shock to the school, but Carmin, with her positive attitude and warm spirit, helped us all deal with her loss.
This afternoon, I stopped by the office – not to help with trash or to ask Carmin to give something to Theo. This time I wanted to give something to her. She’s a hard worker and I know she often works at her desk, so I decided to give her a spork, so she will always have a utensil to eat her lunch with. Not a white plastic spork from school lunch, but a cute little bamboo spork, probably hand crafted somewhere in Asia. When I handed her this tiny little gift, she reacted with delight, saying that it’s perfect as she always forgets her utensils. This may be the case, but such a warm, enthusiastic response is so typical of this lovely woman who we’ve been so lucky to have helping us all at the front line of our son’s school.
Every Thursday lunchtime, I volunteer at my son Theo’s school helping the kids sort their lunch trash. In Theo’s first year at the school, I was part of a local environmental group. For Earth Day in 2010, we launched a volunteer program at the school to help reduce the waste created at lunch times from a whopping 168lbs a day by sorting lunch waste into recyclables, landfill trash and liquids. The school’s mascot is the dragon, so we called our new recycling group the Green Dragons and we have a sorting station near the lunch tables where kids can volunteer as Green Dragons and help other kids to recycle. Early on, we estimated that we were able to cut the volume of waste down to about 60lbs, but more importantly, with this system in place at the school, the kids are now used to the idea that it’s good to recycle. Not all of them bother, but that’s fairly reflective of society as a whole.
Green Dragon Mascot drawn by Theo
As the parent who runs the Green Dragons, I am responsible for recruiting other parents to volunteer at the trash sorting station – not the most glamorous job at the school, as it often requires digging plastic bottles and other recyclables out of the trash cans and rinsing out hummus and yoghurt containers. Hey, as Kermit the Frog would say, it it’s not always easy being green. However, I do actually enjoy getting grubby with the kids, seeing know how kids other than my own behave and interact. And, when I’m there, I also get to work with Edwin. Edwin is the school’s plant manager. He worked at the school years ago, but had lost his position because of a short-sighted cost-saving move on the part of the school district. I remember hearing of the legendary Edwin when we first started at the school, but didn’t meet him until a couple of years ago when he was given back his position, much to the delight of the school staff and students.
Edwin is no ordinary plant manager. As well as looking after the facility, he also looks after the kids. He knows all of their names and engages with each one of them as they come running up to the table to leave an apple they don’t want on the share table, or to throw some plastic wrappers into the trash. Even if the kids have been sent to help with trash as a sort of punishment for some schoolyard misdeed, Edwin makes Green Dragon “community service” fun. He chats with them, teasing the cheeky ones and keeping the rambunctious ones in line. I even enjoy being a Green Dragon more because of his cheerful personality and the easy manner he has with kids. The other week I found out that Edwin loves to draw. I had a notebook with the title “Gratitude” on the cover and some related quotations peppered throughout it, perhaps something he can use for sketching figures when he has a free moment. I didn’t realize till later that the notebook was also green, the color that caused us to meet. I certainly feel grateful towards Edwin for making it easier and more enjoyable trying to be green.