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St. Elizabeth teacher Haley Will inspired as Pope Francis demonstrates environment is ‘something he really cares about’

Haley Will is a teacher at St. Elizabeth School.

WILMINGTON — There are some new additions coming to the Cedar Street campus of St. Elizabeth School, and they should be beneficial for the environment as well as the students.

Thanks to a $10,000 grant from the Dupont Co., St. Elizabeth will be adding a greenhouse, composting station and rainwater-harvesting barrel in the coming months. There are lots of plans and possibilities with those in place, science teacher Haley Will said.

“We are hoping that with this project that we can start incorporating more green initiatives around campus, whether it’s the food waste project, the clean up campus projects — we’ve already done a couple of those. It’s really about teaching the kids about environmentalism and what that really looks like and have them get a physical hands-on approach to it,” Will said.

The core of the project is the greenhouse, she said, which will be built on an already existing slab of concrete that was supposed to be home to a shed at one point. Composting of food waste will begin either in the fourth quarter of this year or the beginning of next year. And rainwater will be collected to be used for the greenhouse.

Students will be growing plants that will help the biodiversity of the neighborhood, Will said. She is researching which plants are endangered and might work best in the facility.

Another aspect of this grant is a recycling initiative. With some of the grant money, St. Elizabeth will purchase a machine that will help the environment, the students and this project.

“What this machine does is grind up plastics that you put into it into a pellet form, and then it will smelt down the pellets into 3D printer filament,” Will said. “What I would like to start the project with is the printing of the potters and planters for the greenhouse.”

There is nothing wrong with normal recycling, she said, but this takes it to another level.

“It kind of helps the kids really visualize what that looks like,” she said.

St. Elizabeth High School principal Patrick Jordan said the Peer Into the Future Grant from Dupont is an international program. To be eligible, an applicant had to be sponsored by a Dupont employee — in St. Elizabeth’s case, that was a parishioner. School president Joseph Papili asked Will to prepare the application, and she went to work on a 55-page proposal. Will said this topic is “near and dear” to her heart. She has a degree in atmospheric science from the University of Delaware.

There are lots of possibilities to help put this grant into action. If someone has no idea how to compost, the school can bring someone in to explain it to the community. They can hold workshops on why greenhouses are important.

Recycling, Will explained, is popular in part because it is easy to understand and market. She wants to go beyond that.

“I’m hoping that with this entire initiative that we throughout the years of education here at St. Elizabeth have multiple grades contribute in different ways, and then we’ll start the conversation a little earlier,” she said.

“It’s not just about the educational process, but also about the inspirational aspects about what they can now conceptualize and move forward with.”
Will wants students to come to her “what if” scenarios that lead to conversations and collaboration. There also will be cross-curricular activity that involve not only science, but mathematics, business and other subjects.

“There’s a lot of endless opportunities that I see coming on the forefront in this next school year,” she said.

Jordan is excited that all students from all grade levels will be involved. Even the pre-kindergarteners will be able to see this at work.

“It gives them a sense of ownership and opportunity,” Jordan said.

Climate change is the primary science issue of the day, he said, “for our students to have an awareness of that all the way from pre-k 3 all the way through 12, that’s fantastic.”

Will said how this project relates to climate change mitigation was part of the grant application. That includes food waste, rainwater pollution and other issues. She hopes to be able to address these in a way that is “new and exciting and optimistic.”

She also noted that Pope Francis has been vocal about the need to care for the environment, so there is an element of faith to it as well.

“In a Catholic school, why does this matter? And how it matters, according to our pope as well. That’s something that he really cares about a lot, and I think that’s awesome.”