If you saw a cartoon telling you to pick up your trash, would you? That’s part of the goal behind Wilson’s Clean and Green Team, which seeks to keep Wilson’s halls clean and promote self-responsibility.
The team was founded last year by 12th-grade Assistant Principal Gregory Bargeman and World Languages Teacher Simona Spicciani-Gerhardt, the co-chairs of the School Climate Committee. In the past, videos to promote cleaning were shown at class assemblies. But due to their lack of student interest, the team has recently become more upfront in their messaging, decorating the hallways with posters. The signs provide direct instruction, telling students not to treat the world as their trash can.
Despite this change in approach, Principal Kimberly Martin says the Clean Green Team initiative is still in progress. After the Spirit Week pillow fight, “people just left and dropped their trays on the floor. And I walked around where the pillow fight was, picking up trash and tray after tray with half-eaten hamburgers and ketchup,” said Martin. She added, “It made me think about the [Clean Green] campaign as well, how we still have a bit of work to do.”
Martin hopes the Clean Green Team will help to make Wilson students more environmentally conscious in general. “I think people will think about recycling, I think people will think about the amount of trash they’re generating period,” said Martin, who noted that she has started saving extra napkins she didn’t need, instead of just throwing them away.
In an attempt to change students’ mindsets, a display at the center of the atrium was set up. Large trash bags filled with litter were placed on a stool, walled off with exhibition ropes. A sign placed on top of the bags read “The Wilson community left 26.4 POUNDS of trash on the ground after STEP on Sept. 24, 2019. WE CAN DO BETTER.”
Wilson science teacher Dani Moore was behind this move. “I think a lot of things change when you just bring awareness to them, and make it something that you notice, instead of something that you just take for granted,” said Moore. Moore adds that she thinks there has been a positive trend toward cleanliness at Wilson, though she’s not sure since she hasn’t quantified it scientifically. “It’s hard to say, but my anecdotal observation is that it’s cleaner. I don’t see juice cups in the stairwells as often.” Moore notes that the discontinuation of Bolis Pizza being allowed to sell pizza after school in the atrium has made an impact. “It certainly helps to control litter, because those pizza boxes were everywhere,” Moore said.
“My goal is to do the trash cleanup [display] maybe once a month, and to quantify it with poundage, so that we can say ‘are we improving as a school,’” said Moore, who notes a big part of getting the movement to grow is just picking up trash when you see it. “I’ve read in psychology that if you want to change behavior, one of the strongest things you can do is normalize the behavior that you want to see.” she said. “I’m hoping that just bringing attention to the issue will solve it, because I don’t think it’s crazy to expect high schoolers to clean up after themselves,” Moore explained.
Martin notes that the Clean Green Team isn’t just focused on the climate and the cleanliness of the school, it’s also focused on Wilson’s custodial team, who she alleges are not always treated so well by Wilson students. “All of these problems are all connected,” said Martin, who thinks much of the mistreatment of the custodial team and the Wilson building stems from unconscious racism and classism among Wilson students of all backgrounds. “I worry that our lackadaisical attitude towards cleaning up… might also be connected to the race of the people who are cleaning up behind us.” she said. “We know it is a challenge for them [the custodial team] to have to be called every time something gets spilled.” said Martin, who believes that we should all do our part to keep Wilson clean, noting that even she has seen spills and simply went to find a mop, rather than radio a custodian. “It’s not just custodial work. It’s all of our responsibility to make sure that our school looks the way we want it to be, because we all share this space, we all live here together,” she said.