Northshore boasts three ‘Green’ heroes

  • Written by Don Mann
Sunrise Elementary science teacher Joanne Burkett lends a helping hand with her kids in her classroom. Courtesy photo.
The next time you run into Joanne Burkett, Judy Ellis or Jon Nishimura, give them a fist-bump. Or maybe just smile and say thank you.

They’ve never met in person, but they have at least three things in common: They all work in the Northshore School District and they were recently honored as "Earth Heroes" by the King County Earth Heroes at School program. And they are all major proponents of their respective schools’ "green team."

The program celebrates King County students, teachers, staff and volunteers who implement projects at their school or beyond to protect the environment via the conservation of natural resources.

According to NSD Communications Director Leanna Albrecht, Northshore is the only district in the county to have at least three Earth Hero recipients so far this year.

Burkett is a science teacher at Sunrise Elementary in Redmond, Ellis is a special education para-educator at the Secondary Academy for Success (SAS) in Bothell, and Nishimura is an assistant custodian who works the night shift at Leota Junior High in Woodinville.

Neither one of them was looking for publicity, but it managed to find them. Because it’s all about the kids.

"Our Green Team consists of about 25 members between third and sixth grade and we meet twice a month to organize our litter, recycling and energy projects," Burkett said.

"We have different committees that are in charge of different things ranging from litter to recycling to energy and water patrols," she said.

"Really it’s all about educating the students as to what is trash and what can be recycled, and we’re just trying to get the message out."

She said the kids at Sunrise have taken it to heart, and make regular patrols of the campus to turn off lights, computers and document cameras, as well as leaking faucets in the rest rooms.

"They have a checklist and they follow it diligently," Burkett said.

Ellis and her green team were recognized for the work they do at 21 Acres, the organic, sustainable farm near Woodinville.

"Our group helped clear 18 acres of blackberry bushes and other invasive plants," she said. "The cool thing about 21 Acres is that they don’t use any toxic chemicals or heavy equipment to maintain the grounds."

At SAS, she said, lending assistance to the farm is not an elective; it’s a requirement.

"The entire school is involved in the spring and the fall. We do all kinds of projects based on whatever they need."

In the spring, they need preparation, which tends to mean removal. In the fall, the kids help with the harvest, she said.

"We see it as an outdoor classroom," she said. "It helps us build a community atmosphere within our student and staff population. Plus the kids have fun, which is a novel concept for learning."

And over at Leota, their "GET IT" club is clearly getting it done.

"GET IT" is an acronym for "greatest environmental team in town," according to Principal Bruce DuBois.

"Kids and staff are interacting in making the school more environmentally friendly," science teacher and Green Team advisor Burton Barranger said. He said the entire custodial staff has stepped up to enhance its composting program, but gave props to Nishimura, a reluctant hero.

"He’s been volunteering his time and has been helping our kids get organized with our "Green Blitz," according to Barranger.

But Nishimura has done a lot more than that, Barranger said.

"He’s our No. 1 liaisson at the building level. He’s gone above and beyond. He’s invented games for kids about what can and can’t be recycled and they love that, and they’re now understanding the effect of recycling."

Barranger said Nishimura was a quiet man who didn’t want attention.

"Thing is," Barranger said, "without his support, the whole thing fails."

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