Spotlight on Junk Rock, litter hikes, farming right at Mifflin Park Elementary Eco-Fest

News photo by Arundhati Das Children take away dahlia and marigold saplings in cartons to plant at home.

Schooled in a Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design-certified, green building and tutored by environmentally-conscious mentors, the young minds of Mifflin Park Elementary are quickly adopting the simple yet life-altering mantra of “recycle, renew and reuse.” Showcasing this amazing awareness, the school’s fifth annual Eco-Fest on Saturday incorporated a plethora of activities and exhibits, 20 to be exact, to engage participants from kindergarten to fourth grade. LEED is a green building certification program that recognizes best-in-class building strategies and practices.

Principal David Argentati has his task cut out. “Michelin Park opened five years ago in an environment-friendly building constructed uniquely out of renewable resources. Ever since, the emphasis has been on healthy body and healthy environment,” he says simply. “As far as the healthy body goes, we try to lead by example and by way of a lot of kinesthetic exercises in the classroom and healthy treats. Then there is the act of recycling and reusing to reduce wastage and control litter.”

Elaborating on the same sentiment, Heather VanSchaick pointed out: “Eco-Fest was started as an extension of the environment-friendly theme on which the school’s building was designed and built.” At the helm of the event ever since it commenced five years ago, VanSchaick was forthright in expressing her deep commitment to “the event, which is essentially a celebration to appreciate and preserve our environment.”

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What the school teaches, the parents enforce at home. “Taking care of the Earth, beginning with the simple act of not throwing litter out the car window, is the main objective,” said Trisha Maples, mother of first-grader Carter, confident that environment-consciousness from early on in life would help her boy to later care for his planet. A viable alternative would be to recycle that junk, VanSchaick said, pointing to the stand where school teacher Mrs. Diggan was helping kids making a tambourine out of recycled materials.

Further endorsement of that concept was to be had in the Junk Rock band, the center piece at this year’s Eco-Fest. The five-member team, of whom Cory Lyle and Josh Lawrence were present at the venue, zeroed in on old trash cans and bins and turned them into musical instruments. “We adapted the idea for the crafts class, too,” said VanSchaick, “so that we could teach the children how to look around the house to find the little odds and ends to turn into new and interesting items.”

Green initiatives and nature’s bounty were also on display at the stations that had sprung up across the gym and school canteen. Drawing the crowds with baskets of fresh red apples was Earl Martin of Brecknock Farms who had his young audience all wide-eyed and curious to his live demonstration of farming and pruning techniques. “The idea is to help them appreciate where that peach really, really comes from as opposed to picking it up at the supermarket,” he said, making sure each one of his spectators picked an apple from the three varieties on display before moving on to the next activity. “Gala is my favorite,” chipped in Earl’s nine-year-old grand-daughter Charity.

“I love food,” Laura Scargle, an intern at Gayatri Wellness since January, quietly asserted, “and I love the idea of bringing together a community with food.” Which is precisely what the Lucine Sihelnik venture purports to achieve as a community organization model of sustainability.

“We endeavor to bring local artisans, farmers and growers from our community under one roof and show people that Berks County has a lot to offer,” Scargle said.

Outside, in a firm thumbs up to healthy eating, Boris Schneider was offering roasted corn on the cobs. “Cheese?” he suggested helpfully, an offer his son first-grader Samuel readily took up. Parked next to Boris was Chip Hoffman’s electric bike station showcasing the E3twn.

“It’s economical, gives great mileage and affords excellent physical exercise on your way to and from work,” Hoffman said, pointing to his star performer, “At 20 miles an hour, you need have no fears of getting a speed ticket and you still get to work.”

Adding a dash of color was the marigold and dahlia corner, where Lara Strunk helped children take away saplings in cartons to plant at home. Small hands clutched at the bright yellow boxes from which sprang tender green shoots that would require careful nurture and nourishment in order to thrive, branch out and grow firm roots.