On December 6, senior Derrick Kowalczuk made a stand for the environment by promoting a protest to remove styrofoam and plastic from the cafeteria. The protest involved encouraging students to pack lunches for one day instead of buying from the cafeteria. Previously, he petitioned to remove plastic and styrofoam and received over 400 signatures in two days.
Food service director, Amy Skladanowski, averages that 40% of students participated, but Kowalczuk stated “I think about 75% of students participated in the protest and…that people participated because they care about the environment, but some only did it because they’re friends with me.” Sophomore Isaac Mroz, a participant in the protest, said he only packed his lunch because he’s friends with Derrick, but he does believe there will be changes to the cafeteria. Some raised concerns about the protest though.
Student, junior Dayna Conn, commented about the protest on an Erie County Student Coalition (ECSC) Instagram post. “Although I think it’s a nice idea…it’s not going to change anything.” She continued by commenting “What about all the plastic students are going to use packing lunches in? What if they pack a sandwich? That bread comes in a PLASTIC bag.” In regards to this, Kowalczuk said that dealing with styrofoam first was important because it’s a bigger current issue than plastic.
December 5, a day before the protest, there was a meeting regarding the issue with the principals, Skladanowski, and business manager, William Fendya. In the meeting, “everyone got to strategize how best to implement change,” Skladanowski stated. Ultimately, the faculty “agreed to continue to research for an affordable, environmentally friendly alternative.” One idea is to create a garbage monitor group which would ensure students don’t throw away reusable or recyclable items and inform students on the issue. “Everyone is in agreement that styrofoam and plastic are terrible for the environment and together will work towards making changes,” Skladanowki said.
Over the announcements the day of the protest, the principals promised future unspecified cafeteria changes. Principal, Dan Mennow said he supported the protest all the way. Associate Principal Pam Makowski added that it was a great way to spread environmental awareness. They also took the opportunity to thank the cafeteria staff for the work they do daily to prepare food for our students. In addition, Mennow agreed to cooperate with the newly established Environmental Club when they come up with a clear plan.
“I’m surprised the principals promised something would be done, because back in Estonia, nothing would be changed,” stated junior foreign exchange student, Triin Tillemann. Tillemann mentioned how she had participated in Fridays for Future protests in Estonia but hadn’t seen much change school-wise as a result.
On Dec 11, the first meeting for the new Environmental Club was held in Mr. Moore’s room. The room was packed and Kowalczuk seemed to take charge. The goal of the club is to spread awareness of maintaining environmental sustainability. They hope to make three divisions of the club involving “recycling, garbage clean up, and having everyone be more respectful of our school,” Kowalczuk stated.
Along with the Environmental Club, Kowalczuk is involved in the ECSC, which is a “group of students from Erie that want change, whatever that may be,” as he said. They’re like a think tank that meet together to brainstorm and then go off to their individual schools to carry out ideas. One of their bigger goals is to have a town hall with congressman Mike Kelly (R-Pennsylvania) in order to have questions answered.
“It does not matter what your views are,” Kowalczuk commented in regards to ECSC. “[It’s] just fun to meet and talk about the world; everyone should join.” For more information on Environmental Club, contact Moore or Kowalczuk, and for more on ECSC, check out their Instagram account @ecstucoalition.