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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Elementary girls step up, speak out on Styrofoam use

Jun 04, 2019 02:21PM ● By Julie Slama

With a petition containing 500 signatures, four Butler Elementary girls, including Liv Deagle, second from right, addressed Canyons Board of Education to eliminate the use of Stryofoam lunch trays in the cafeteria. (Fran Deagle/Butler Elementary)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

In mid-April, the Deagle family was eating dinner and talking about ways they could make a real difference for the Earth on Earth Day. 

With Liv being in first grade at Butler Elementary and older sister, Aggy, being a third grader, the conversation turned to school meals being served on Styrofoam trays.

“We talked at first about not using Styrofoam trays for Earth Day,” Liv said. “We have plastic trays at school we could use and wash.”

The girls set off to school the next day, asking classmates if they would be willing to give up 15 minutes of their recess to wash the school’s plastic trays so they could reduce the use of Styrofoam trays. Eighteen peers quickly volunteered.

At that point, Aggy approached Principal Jeff Nalwalker.

“He said that kids weren’t allowed in the kitchen for safety reasons, but he said he was willing to help on Earth Day,” she said. “It was cool to look through the window and see him washing dishes.”

Nalwalker said it was more than just washing dishes.

“I was impressed that Aggy approached me after identifying a problem and proposing a solution,” he said. “I always enjoy an opportunity to help a student realize a goal. I hope by doing so, Aggy learns that you don’t have to be a politician, powerful person or even an adult to make a difference. It was as simple as this being a relatively small gesture that I could make that I believed could have a big impact on empowering a child.”

Nalwalker shared the girls’ story in the school’s weekly newsletter. He said several other students felt encouraged to write petitions to bring awareness or solve problems that were important to them.

“I think they thought, ‘If Aggy can convince the principal to wash dishes for a day, maybe together they could convince other adults in charge to help too,’” he said.

However, the Deagle sisters didn’t stop there. They began a petition to eliminate Styrofoam trays completely in their school.

As the message spread throughout the 630 students as well as the faculty and staff, the signatures on their petition grew to 500 in a few days, Liv said.

“I took the petition to first grade and told the class what it was for. At the second recess, I got signatures,” she said.

Two fourth- graders, Annabelle Cheney and Evelyn Fisher, joined the sisters’ efforts, and they gained the support of teacher Annelise Slater, who suggested they address the Canyons Board of Education with the issue.

With Liv holding up petitions showing the support of the school and Aggy wearing a matching “There is no Plan(et) B” shirt, they addressed the board May 7, detailing the plan to eliminate Styrofoam trays at Butler Elementary. Annabelle and Evelyn also spoke as did Canyon View second grader Miles Frantz and Ridgecrest fourth grader Georgia Mikell. 

“I told them I did some research and found out that Styrofoam trays for lunchtime can take 500 years to decompose, and sometimes it never does,” Aggy said.

During her address, she told the board, “We knew this was a problem, but my dad always says, ‘you can’t complain about a problem unless you have a solution.’ We decided to come up with a solution.”

Then, the third grader told the board how her principal volunteered to wash dishes after he told her students weren’t allowed in the kitchen.

“While it was great for one day, we still use Styrofoam every day,” she told the board. “So, we didn’t fix the problem. That’s where you come in. I need your help to raise money to pay people or maybe to even buy a dishwasher. We should do this because we are trashing our Earth.”

Board President Nancy Tingey appreciated their initiative.

“When I saw those children stand up to the microphone and present their ideas, I thought: This is exactly why student learning is the focus of all we do in the Canyons District,” she said. “The students had well-prepared and well-researched presentations, and they certainly showed the courage of their convictions. In Canyons District, with our mission of ensuring the college- and career-readiness of all our students, we believe we are preparing the next generation of innovators and leaders. The students who came to the board with their ideas on how to change the world one small step at a time were a reminder of how high-quality classroom teaching, coupled with a strong parent engagement, will help our students learn what they need to know to be a positive force for change. Canyons District has and will continue to make efforts to be a leader in environmentally conscious practices." 

Two days later, District Nutrition Services Director Sebasthian Varas thanked the delegation for bringing the concern to his attention.

In the letter, he said the school lunch program is run by the USDA and all the funding comes from the number of meals served in the lunchroom. And while other prices of food and labor have gone up, since 2009, Canyons has not increased the price of lunch prices. 

Therefore, “when we looked at implementing disposable trays, we considered using ecofriendly ones. However, the cost difference was between 0.17 to 0.25 cents higher per tray compared to the ones we are currently using. We simply did not have enough funds to cover that cost.”

He also mentioned that the lack of effective recycling programs and the difficulty of hiring staff for two hours in the middle of the day factored into the decision.

While Nalwalker is aware of the budget concern, he said the girls may continue to come up with creative solutions to the issue, which he would review. 

The sisters’ mother, Fran Deagle, who works as an aide in the school, is proud of the steps the girls have taken.

“As a parent, I’m concerned about the world we live in and how we just use these trays once and throw them out,” she said. “The girls are trying to find a way to make their meals more environmentally friendly. It can’t be good for us to breath in the air from the fumes of the Styrofoam burning in the sunshine. They’re trying to find a way to make Earth Day meaningful for every day.” 

Their father, Cory, said he hopes his daughters are being influential.

“There never has been a more crucial time for protecting our environment and regardless of their age, their young voices can make more of an impact, can cultivate change — it really is a valuable lesson,” he said. “They have had time to identify a problem, had the opportunity to research and create a fact-based solution that can generate action.”

Nalwalker said these girls are setting an example for their peers.

“I hope that all the students can learn that they have the power to change the world,” Nalwalker said. “I want them to see the value of persuasive writing and speaking. I hope they learn that through something or someone small, great things can come to pass.”

Aggy agrees. “It feels good to be a role model and it’s a good thing to have other people follow and work with you to make the world a better place.”