By Genevieve A. Suzuki
Spring cleaning is no joke. Every year, many of us shake off the winter blues, don rubber cleaning gloves and start scrubbing and purging. When it’s all finished, there’s almost no better feeling than sitting on the couch and taking in our newly cleaned home.
It’s funny how we’re accustomed to taking care of the individual homes providing roofs over our heads, but easily forget the bigger home we all share. Earth Day this year fell on April 22, but we shouldn’t relegate caring for our planet to a mere annual celebration. Rather, we should strive to make a difference every day, even if the steps we take are small ones.
The good news is the next generation is learning to be responsible stewards of our environment.
In fact, La Mesa’s own St. Martin of Tours Academy was just recognized by the state of California’s Department of Education for being a Green Ribbon School.
The California Green Ribbon Schools program recognizes schools across the state for environmental excellence and demonstrated achievement of the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools’ three pillars: the reduction of environmental impact and costs; the improvement of health and wellness of schools, students and staff; and effective environmental education, incorporating science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM), civic skills, and green career pathways.
St. Martin, which received the gold level award this year, has been teaching its students about sustainability through their everyday actions and values.
“Our students are becoming ‘engaged citizens of the world,’” said St. Martin Academy Principal Diane Hartley. “[They] understand that, as Catholics, we are responsible for taking care of our Earth.”
It seems St. Martin Academy is really trying to walk the walk when it comes to environmental stewardship. In 2015, Pope Francis released “On Care for Our Common Home (Laudato Si),” an appeal to “every person living on this planet.” The Diocese then formed Creation Care Teams, which support parishes and schools in their efforts toward environmental sustainability. As a result, after the diocese encouraged all parishes to install solar panels to save on energy, St. Martin of Tours Parish and Academy in 2018 purchased panels that have been projected to offset 97.94% of the academy’s power.
Hartley said St. Martin Academy also uses compostable paper goods and utensils for their Pizza Friday lunches, saves greens from lunches for the compost bin, works hard in the school garden to provide fresh food items for the parish food bank, and uses refillable water bottles free of biphenol A, an industrial chemical commonly used to create plastics and resins, to help reduce the use of single-use plastic bottles.
Anne Pacheco, who founded La Mesa Fair Trade, has also contributed to the school’s green success. Pacheco, who works at the academy as an administrative assistant, began putting together the Green Ribbon Schools application several months ago. “[It] gave me insight to all that is taught in the classrooms and what needed to be improved on campus. The stakeholders that worked on the 47-page document agreed we are truly engaging our students in skills that are life changing.”
Pacheco’s commitment to fair trade extends to St. Martin Academy. In December 2015, the school was officially declared the first Catholic Fair Trade School. Having the fair trade designation means adhering to environmental practices that prohibit the use of the most harmful chemicals and taking measures to protect natural resources.
“I believe it was because we are a Fair Trade School that brought us to the gold. Students not only have learned to take care of the environment, but they know where their products come from, if people have been paid fairly, are organic and that trafficking was not part of the supply chain,” said Pacheco.
If you’re interested in learning more about St. Martin of Tours Academy, fair trade or simply how to be a better citizen of our planet, check out the La Mesa Earth Day Festival on April 27 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Harry Griffen Park.
— Genevieve A. Suzuki is a local attorney who lives and works in La Mesa.