The Thacher School prides itself in being both a sustainable, progressive school and an elite, prep school on par with some of the most prestigious East Coast schools.
Occasionally, these two sides of Thacher find themselves at odds. For example, Thacher boasts an appealing and impressive campus, covered year-round in dewy spring grass. While East Coast schools maintain their campuses with relative ease, Southern California is in the middle of terrible drought; Thacher’s sustainable ideals are dampened by this oxymoronic practice.
The Environmental Action Committee, one of Thacher’s most passionate clubs since 2007, wants Thacher’s sustainability outlook to upgrade and change.
Paul Chapman, an environmental consultant and former principal trying to push schools towards sustainability through his company Inverness Associates, came to visit Thacher in December. He sees clubs like the EAC as playing an essential role in the future of the global environment.
In my opinion, there is no greater challenge we face than our changing climate and environmental decline, and it is my hope that the rising generation can help lead our way to a more sustainable world. With 1500 independent schools and 132,000 schools overall nation wide, education can play a very large role in that effort.
Few campus clubs seem to have the influence and exposure, or work as hard as the EAC, but current Committee members feel pessimistic about the club’s ability to affect lasting change.
The lush green lawns across campus highlight a major problem in the EAC’s ability to take actual action. While the school’s lawns may be green, the rest of California is starved for water: The Governor of California, Jerry Brown, asked all Californian’s to reduce their water consumption by 20 percent.
Along with the Governor, the EAC recognizes and seeks to change the school misuse of water in times of drought; members have asked that sprinklers be audited in order to stop watering the sidewalks and have requested that some areas of grass be replaced by cactus gardens and native plants. Both changes would have a substantial impact on the school’s water bill, of which an estimated 60 percent is irrigation.
Unfortunately, the students serving on the EAC cannot make these changes without the help of the administration.
“It’s hard to do anything on the [student] level without help from upper levels. We feel like we’re running in a circle,” said School Chair and Land Use Head Minah Choi ’14.
The EAC is pushing hard for change, but feels that the administration has been slow in responding.
Mr. Meyer, the faculty advisor for the EAC, believes competing interests on different levels may be to blame; the board, the students, and the administration all have different perspectives: some for the education side and others for the business side of the school. The value of the campus lies at the heart of every discussion.
The physical campus represents such an enormous asset, in terms of monetary value, the Board of Trustees becomes the ultimate authority.
Mr. Meyer added that the institution may be “too much in the business mindset” and not enough in the educational mindset.
The EAC, with the exception of the Human Rights Club, is committed the most to inarguably virtuous goals: promoting sustainability and saving the environment. However, the EAC lacks the structure to tackle such critical issues. The EAC relies solely on senior leadership, meaning no current members have actually belonged to the club in previous years.
“Seniors come in and don’t know anything about it because they’ve never worked on it,” said Rachel Rex ‘14. “It’s ridiculous.”
This lack of member continuity leads to uncertain, unprepared members unable to tackle a global crisis without the proper guidance.
The EAC also suffers by being fragmented into smaller divisions each headed by a different senior. Rex and Sage Whipple ‘14 are the Heads of Food Systems; Drew Combs ‘14 is Head of the Gardening Project. Harry Hayman ‘14 is Head of Public Relations, but was unable to be reached for comment for this article despite numerous email and phone attempts.
Several other members run divisions, which care for the pigs, manage composting and bio-diesel, and run the Green Cup Challenge. Each senior is dedicated and passionate about their division; however, members feel the club lacks unity: no overreaching message or project ties the members together.
Paul Chapman recommended that the students find a larger goal to work towards together; at the moment, too few people are individually attempting to tackle numerous issues. The EAC has a strong member base, which simply needs to be united.
Despite some structural problems, the EAC is steadily making progress and improving the world of Thacher. The Green Cup Challenge began this month and has consistently reduced Thacher’s energy consumption every year. The EAC also raised pigs for the first time two years ago, and again this year is making students think about where their food comes from and what it takes to get there.
The school’s composting is set to become a potentially profitable project as EAC members are hoping to sell compost to farmers as topsoil. The Board also approved the school’s guide for sustainability, The Strategic Plan of 2017, that details Thacher’s sustainability goals for the next three years. Among these goals, the board is hoping to add environmentalism and stewardship into the school’s curriculum earlier and more prevalently.
The EAC undoubtedly faces hardships, but, nonetheless, it has reduced both the school’s waste and energy consumption and is paving the road for a more sustainable and progressive Thacher.