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Meet Justin Bulova and Whitney High School Grades of Green Team

Today we’d like to introduce you to Justin Bulova and Whitney High School Grades of Green Team.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Justin and Whitney High School Grades of Green Team. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
Justin Bulova, Communications Associate with Grades of Green

I have worked for Grades of Green for about one year now, initially joining the environmental nonprofit as a consultant, now I manage communications for the organization out of our New York office.

The road that led me to Grades of Green wasn’t straight and narrow, but I think the opportunity to make a difference in my community is what I had been looking for all along.

I finished my Masters’ Degree from Fordham University in Elections and Campaign Management, and I had worked on political campaigns since I was in high school. Working with student leaders to protect our environment, to make a positive impact on our planet, I couldn’t imagine a better way to do that then in my current role.

Let me show you what I mean. In addition to answering the interview questions myself, students from the Green Team at Whitney High School, from Los Cerritos, California will answer the questions with their personal experience as well. Whitney High School’s Green Team won an Eco-Grant from Grades of Green for their participation in the 2019 Waste Campaign. Whitney High School has been working with us for about one year now, after being referred by another Grades of Green school.

Whitney High School will tell you a little bit about working with Grades of Green and our Campaigns. The waitlist for the Fall Water Campaign with Grades of Green is now open, head over to bit.ly/RISECamp19 to get more info and to save your spot.

Whitney High School Green Team, Grades of Green Team from Los Cerritos, CA

Getting started with the Water Campaign required some coordination, but working with Cathy Procopio, our Grades of Green Advisor our Campaign hit the ground running in the Fall of 2018.

Coming from the Grades of Green 2018 Water Campaign, we kind of knew what to expect, in terms of deadlines and responsibilities that were assigned to us. As far as getting started on the 2019 Waste Campaign, the solution aspect was entirely different, where we had to think of a way to resolve the massive waste issue our school has.
By participating in the first step in the Waste Campaign, we learned so much through weighing out daily waste outtake. Most of the waste that we encountered was a specific category: food. We brainstormed ideas on how to resolve the problem. Though we already have compost bins on campus, they are not used very often, primarily for brown matter. Implementing the solution of a compost bin on campus required the approval of the school before we progressed further. We knew that once we passed that starting point, it would lead us into the next stages.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Justin B, Communications

As an organization, we face many of the same challenges as any start-up. Grades of Green is a small organization with a big impact, which means that everyone on our staff plays a big role. In order to support our many students, and continue to grow and reach new eco-leaders, everyone on our team wears multiple hats and contributes in a major way.

While we have several rock-star Campaign Teams, like Whitney High who return year after year, the challenge will always be to broaden our reach and inspire the next generation of Eco-Leaders. At the culmination of each Campaign, there is always another class of student leaders looking for the opportunity to bring their sustainability initiatives to life. Our goal is to give them that opportunity.

Our mission is to inspire and empower student leaders, to make environmental sustainability second nature in students’ minds. At the end of the day, our struggles are the struggles of our students. If we don’t have the hours or funding to support their projects, we are missing out on amazing sustainability initiatives and possibilities, in the short-term and the future.

Whitney HS GT

During the Waste Campaign, some struggles that we encountered was choosing a compost bin that did not interfere with the health and aesthetics of our campus. Looking at college campuses with compost bins and searching for ideas online, we found that a revolving compost bin satisfied the school’s requirements. After we submitted our proposal and held meetings with the administration, we were given the green light.

Another struggle that we faced – and still are facing – is the specifics on making sure a compost bin is well functioning. We started this project with little experience, much only coming from small, at-home bins. When taking in green matter on a much larger scale, it requires experimentation. We found out the importance of getting the ratios of green to brown matter (wet/recently grown materials versus dried out plant matter) correct. We determined the amount of times to spin it a week, the amount of water it required, all through looking at the factors that contributed to a good compost. Insects, of course, were always a problem, but the bin we purchased kept aromas and the insects from affecting the health of the student population. This year’s weather in Southern California was colder than usual, which affected our compost since it decomposes at a faster rate in hotter temperatures. This, however, doesn’t deter us from using trial and error to hit our target goals.

Grades of Green – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Justin B, Communications

Grades of Green is an environmental nonprofit that focuses on student leadership. Since Grades of Green was founded on Earth Day in 2009, the organization has expanded from just one school in Los Angeles to half-a-million students across 23 countries. Grades of Green’s programs are always free to student groups, and our semester-long Water and Waste Campaigns offer Eco-Grants up to $1000 to fund student sustainability solutions.

Our specialty is working with students to turn their environmental passions into action. Each Campaign has a roadmap with in-classroom presentations and environmental awareness activities, but the focus of each Campaign is to develop sustainability initiatives around students’ interests. Using webinars with environmental experts, and one-on-one conferences with their Grades of Green Mentor, like Cathy, each Campaign Team develops an initiative that they are truly passionate about. No two campaign projects are the same.

It is the collective impact of our student leaders that leaves me in awe. Over ten years, Grades of Green Eco-Leaders conserved 21 million gallons of water and diverted 2,740 tons of waste. 12 City or State-wide resolutions were passed with their support, and over 4.3 million community members were educated about sustainability issues in their community.

I used to think that solving climate change was an issue for much greater minds than mine to solve. Working with Grades of Green has shown me the power and impact we all have as individuals.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
Justin B, Communications

Seeing a Student Team present to their local government, or raise awareness for causes important to them, is what makes my career so rewarding. I have witnessed first-hand the passion and creativity these student leaders bring to each Campaign. I am inspired by how Campaign Teams have scaled their projects and taken a can-do approach to issues large and small.

Whitney HS GT

One aspect that we are especially proud of is how our whole campus mobilized to provide us with green and brown matter. Students brought bags of dried leaves from their front lawns, and teachers brought in coffee grounds and banana peels. During lunch, our team went around to collect fruit peels and leftover salad lettuce.

Representatives from our team went on our daily broadcasting system, Whitney High School Live, and played a game show with the purpose of educating our peers on the do’s and don’ts of composting. What we also are proud of is how even though the project is over, we still are finding ways to keep its idea going. We continue to monitor the progress of the bin, when day by day, it continues to break down into nutrient-filled matter which we can implement into our thriving gardens. Furthermore, this weekend, we will educate those around us in the Impact-A-Thon. During the event, we will be hosting a booth that details our Waste Campaign process, along with attending workshops on sustainability. Our booth aims to educate all the event’s attendees on what can or can’t be composted, and what will happen if we don’t do anything about the waste problem soon.

We would not have had much of a success without our wonderful mentors and our enthusiastic supporters. First of all, our amazing mentor, Ms. Cathy Procopio, was a huge influence on the direction we went in for our project. We kept up communication throughout the entire process, and we bounced ideas off each other and discussed them in detail. We were even able to meet in person in April when she came to speak to our school during Earth Week.

Another mentor who influenced our success is our Ecology and Wildlife Club Advisor, Mrs. Aileen Perry. Along with hosting our 15-odd students in our weekly meetings, she also influenced the direction we went in for this compost campaign. She was – and still is – a big advocate for our project, and makes sure to spread these sustainable ideas to all her biology students.

Our vice principal, Mr. Natividad, also was essential to our process, as he gave us the go-ahead after approving our ideas. He also worked to send out information to the students’ parents who then reminded their students to support our composting initiative.

All the students in our school were big supporters of this project, as the little things that they did, such as giving us their compostable food scraps, added up tremendously and contributed to our success.

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