McCall students stay connected to the natural world

When students in the McCall-Donnelly School District eat, they know where the food came from. When they drink, they know how the water flowed to their glass. When they throw things away, they know where the garbage goes.

Raising chickens, studying the Payette River watershed and recycling are daily activities for kids in McCall-Donnelly.

The McCall-Donnelly School District Green Policy has four main goals: 1. Teach, learn, engage. (Hands-on activities include testing water, caring for wildlife and growing vegetables). 2. Healthy school grounds, healthy food. (Use local products and teach good stewardship of school buildings). 3. Reduce resources and energy consumption. (Recycle and share). 4. Minimize toxins. (Use the least toxic cleaning materials, school supplies, pest and weed management; minimizing use of harmful substances.).

The district teaches that the human race is dependent on the Earth’s biosystems. School leaders believe that a deep understanding of how to live within these biological limits is a crucial component of a 21st century classroom.

“As educators, we have an obligation to not only show students to how to be responsible, but help them understand what’s going to happen in the future if we don’t do these things,’’ said McCall-Donnelly teacher Matt Hellake.

McCall-Donnelly School District’s board of trustees passed the Green School Initiative Policy in July of 2011. The policy guides the district in infusing ecological literacy into the curriculum, daily life and maintenance of the school. The Green Policy is a consistent and standardized message for all to follow, from the superintendent to the janitor, to the first grader to the senior. Though just recently implemented, the policy affects every thing they do in school.

“We’re making schools happy and healthy places to be,” said board member Mary Hart. “We want them to preserve the beauty and stay connected to the natural world.”

Students are taught the meaning of ecological literacy, which is an understanding that everything operates in systems where relationship and connectedness are of prime importance.

McCall-Donnelly offers a class called “Human Sustainability” where children learn to take care of their world like a bird cares for its nest. They study the lifecycle of a fish and learn how waste can become fuel. Students weighed their own lunch waste and  calculated they wasted 6,840 pounds of food in one year, equal to the size of an Asian elephant.

“It is recognizing that we are living parts of the living whole,” said teacher Judy Anderson. “We want students to grow affections for family and the natural world, school, community, ecosystems, watershed and bioregion  — the web of life we all depend on and we need to take care of.”

Activities and assignments are hands-on, specific to their surrounding and revolving around the Green Policy. What’s so special about McCall-Donnelly’s green curriculum is that everyone has the ability to participate.

  • Elementary kids plant carrots, dig them up, clean them and eat them as a snack after recess.
  • High school kids raise chickens, collect the eggs and make breakfast that includes sausage produced in New Meadows, homemade toast from Sun Valley and milk produced in Buhl.
  • Custodians use only green products for cleaning instead of bleach and micro-fiber rags instead of cotton.
  • Contractors built in censored lighting, low-flow toilets and timed computer shutoffs when remodeling facilities.
  • Everyone recycles and conserve energy.

“We all have choices, but with those choices come responsibilities,” said teacher Matt Hellake.



Jennifer Swindell

Jennifer Swindell

Managing editor and CEO Jennifer Swindell founded Idaho Education News in 2013. She has led the online news platform as it has grown in readership and engagement every year, reaching over two million pageviews a year. Jennifer has more than 35 years of experience in Idaho journalism. She also has served as a public information officer for Idaho schools and as a communication director at Boise State University. She can be reached at [email protected].

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