Dick Peach, president of Keep Evanston Beautiful, arranged for a composter for the Dewey School lunchroom.

   The wide, white wings of the peace dove wafted slowly in the morning breeze on Earth Day, hovering just above the heads of the children who carried and propelled the giant bird of peace. As children arrived for school, they joined their classmates in the parade around the front of Dewey Elementary School, 1551 Wesley Ave.

   The dove, made of recycled sheets and decorated by Dewey students eight years ago, is one of Jane Goodall’s ideas,” said fourth-grade teacher Pat Cleveland. She founded the Dewey branch of Roots & Shoots and leads the after-school group with co-facilitator and colleague Steve Files.

   “Dr. Goodall hoped that there would be thousands of birds like this created all over the world and that, seen together from above, they would symbolize the world coming together and unifying,” Ms. Cleveland said. “Usually we fly it on Peace Day [Sept. 21], but because peace is so intrinsically connected to how we care for the earth, we decided to bring the dove out today.”

   Roots & Shoots, a program of the Jane Goodall Institute, began in 1991, when a group of kids met with Dr. Jane in Tanzania, Ms. Cleveland said in a statement she prepared to have read for the entire school. “You may ask yourself, ‘Where did the name Roots & Shoots come from?’ Roots creep under ground everywhere and make a strong foundation. Shoots seem very weak, but to reach the light, they can break open brick walls. …”

   Roots & Shoots is now a global network of more than 8,000 groups in almost 100 countries, according to its website, www.rootsandshoots.org.

   Ms. Cleveland said she heard Dr. Goodall speak last year at the Chicago Botanic Garden, changing the phrase “Think globally, act locally” to “Think locally, act locally.”

   “If we act locally it will impact the global environment,” Ms. Cleveland said.

   And on this Earth Day, as well as this week, the steps that members of Dewey Roots & Shoots took to care for the earth were more than just tracks in the fresh April dirt.

   In the cafeteria at lunchtime, they inaugurated a food-composting program, with a composter donated by Keep Evanston Beautiful. KEB president Dick Peach braved the lunchroom scene as the first orts began their journey of becoming soil for the school garden in the 30-gallon plastic drum. “The composter has no handle – the first thing that breaks – so the kids can just give it a turn,” he said. “And the liquid that collects in the base – that’s the best for the garden. You just spray it on.”

   Students knew they could recycle their coated cardboard milk cartons, and this day, they could also recycle their lunch trays: After having their proposal for using biodegradable lunch trays in all District 65 lunchroom rejected by the District 65 School Board because of cost, the Roots & Shoots students purchased recyclable trays for all students to use in the lunchroom this week.

   Wednesday was carrot day; everyone eating a school lunch received a packet of carrots. “These are also a big garbage item,” Ms. Cleveland said, as she and Mr. Files told the students what could go into the composter: only vegetable and fruit scraps.

   “How about these pizza rolls?” Mr. Files asked. “They have tomatoes in them.” “No,” was the reply; no bread or dairy in the composter.

   Parent volunteer Michelle Ney said the composting was a learning process, “but even now students are bringing less [garbage]; they’re bringing lunches in reusable containers.”

   Ms. Ney also helped the Roots & Shoots students make reusable totes for everyone in the school. On Monday they presented everyone in the building – about 460 persons – with a tote bag made from a used T-shirt.

   “You may wonder,” Ms. Cleveland’s statement to the school continued, ‘What does [the peace dove] have to do with recycling and waste-free lunches?’ Earth Day is … about caring for each other, the animals and the plants. If we all share our resources and take only what we need, then a green, healthy earth will be here for many generations to come and we can all live together in peace.”

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...