Nov 1, 2023 | Original post HERE | Chrissy Murphy is a Morganton News Herald staff writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 828-432-8941. Follow @cmurphyMNH on Twitter.
The pandemic changed the school cafeteria line. Breakfast was put into plastic bags for students to take back to their classroom. For a few years, the sealable, gallon-sized plastic bags came into classrooms with breakfast for students and was tossed in the trash can once the meal was finished. All of the food came prepackaged, so the bags were clean except for the occasional condensation from hot foods being inside the bag.
Heritage Middle School Teacher Tim Gallagher saw those bags piling up in the trash bins and considered a solution that was a little more earth-friendly. His concern came into focus in early September when he noticed fellow teacher Erik Bathe collecting the bags to be repurposed.
“I said, ‘Bathe, what are you doing with these?’” Gallagher said. “He’s like, ‘Well, I give them to the art teacher. Sometimes I take them home and use them. They’re perfectly good.’”
That’s when Gallagher, a member of the school’s Global Leaders team, saw the bags as an opportunity to make a global change that ties in directly to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 12: Responsible consumption and production. Gallagher said the decision goes back to a lesson he learned from Freebird McKinney, director of partnership development at Participate Learning, on scaling your goals.
“He says you have to scope your globe,” McKinney said. “So, the way he looks at it is this: you think of global changes as such a huge, huge undertaking. How am I going to change the world? That’s the first thing I asked myself ... You have to change the scope so that your globe is small, and then you work out so it’s a little bit bigger and a little bit bigger until you see changes being made around you.”
On Sept. 25, Gallagher told his eighth-grade classroom they would be making the classroom their globe, and they were going to make some changes, starting with the plastic bags. About 22 bags were collected on the first day. Gallagher put together a group of students to spread the word to other classrooms before breakfast was served.
That day, they collected 102 bags. The school distributes about 350 breakfasts a day in the plastic bags. Before long, seventh-graders were bringing in bags.
Some of the students made a video about what they’re doing and why it’s important, and Gallagher said they plan to use that video to help recruit the sixth-graders to their cause. Summer Thompson, the art teacher at Heritage Middle, has been working with students to create infographics for the cause. “Through the actions of kids, through the changes the changes the kids are helping to make, we can potentially see a powerful change at the school level,” Gallagher said. “And that is so powerful for them, I think, that they can see that something they took part in changed the policy of the school?” Heritage Middle School students pose for a photo with some of the bags collected.
Gallagher was invited by Participate Learning, the organization that oversees the Global Leaders program, to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s Accelerate, Invigorate, Motivate Conference on Oct. 10, where he had a chance to set up a table during an expo and share the project with teachers from across the state.
Global Leaders hopes to prepare students for the modern workforce by integrating global issues, current events and global competencies into already existing school priorities. Heritage Middle School is the only Global Leader school in the Burke County Public Schools system, Gallagher said. Moving forward, they’ll tackle more of the U.N.’s sustainable development goals in projects using the plastic bags as a model. “I ... want to see kids think more critically and act on change, no matter how big or how small it is,” Gallagher said. “Just make changes around you to make improvements. Make improvements around you all the time, and it’s easy to do if that’s your habit.” He estimated the student are now saving about 200 plastic bags a day from ending up in a landfill.
Heritage Middle School students pose for a photo with some of the bags collected. Chrissy Murphy, Morganton News Herald