Here’s how students at one Prairie Village elementary are trying to lower their school’s carbon footprint

Prairie Green Team in action

There are about 20 Prairie Elementary students on the school's new "Green Team," which aims to make the school and its community more environmentally conscious. Above, the group at its first meeting this school year. Photo credit Juliana Garcia

A new student-led group at Prairie Elementary School in Prairie Village aims to lessen their campus’s carbon footprint while also hoping to expand its environmental sustainability efforts to the greater community in northeast Johnson County.

Driving the news: The Prairie Green Team started in the spring and has now expanded in this new semester to about 20 students in grades 4 to 6 who meet after school every two weeks to work on ways to make the school and their community more environmentally friendly.

  • Melinda Lewis, the Prairie Green Team’s parent sponsor, believes this is the first Green Team in an SMSD elementary school, but similar Green Teams have been formed in schools across the country.
  • The Prairie Green Team’s ideas and initiatives comes directly from students, Lewis said, a fact she reminded the group about at its first meeting this semester on Thursday.

What she said: “We are going to try to create opportunities for every Prairie Panther and everybody who loves a Prairie Panther to do more than we are doing right now to have a healthy environment,” Lewis told the group. “We are going to try lots of activities and opportunities and we’re going to challenge each other so that we can all stretch a little bit harder to make the planet a healthier place.”

Prairie Paws Green Team
The Green Team plans to use Panther Paws, a school-wide reward system, to encourage parents to not idle their cars at drop-off and pick-up. Photo credit Juliana Garcia

The work: The team began in the spring and implemented a “walking school bus” to pick up kids up from designated spots on the way to Prairie Elementary as a way to reduce the school’s carbon footprint.

  • That turned out to be a personal favorite project for sixth grader Ben Walsh, who enjoys both helping the environment and socializing with friends.
  • Walsh said another Green Team initiative this semester is making the school parking lot an “idle-free zone” during daily drop-off and dismissal times, meaning vehicles will have to be turned off as parents and families wait in lines outside the school.
  • Other projects for this year include bringing back cafeteria composting, coordinating trash pickups around Johnson County and making reusable tote bags out of T-shirts..

What kids are saying: Prairie fifth grader Emeline Wilinski says she is worried about her future because “global warming is kind of destroying the planet.”

  • “In second grade, me and my friends were interested in helping the environment and stuff like that,” Wilinski said. “We kind of started our own thing, and then when Green Team started we got really excited because that’s what we had been wanting to do so we joined it.”

Zooming out: The Prairie Green Team hopes to eventually spur interest and inspire similar efforts at other Shawnee Mission elementary schools, Lewis said.

  • For now, though, the plan is to get some actual initiatives at Praire under the Green Team’s belt, Lewis said.
  • The Green Team is also working to connect with city and county officials in an effort to spur change beyond their school.
  • For example, one student is meeting with the Prairie village public works director to discuss walkability at specific spots near the school along Mission and Tomahawk roads and around the Shops of Prairie Village.
  • Lewis said City Councilmember Greg Shelton, who serves as the environmental committee chair, plans to visit the Green Team later this year to hear their ideas for how to make the city a more environmentally friendly place.