The Young Activist Club of Piney Branch Elementary School

The Young Activist Club of Piney Branch Elementary has 18 members, ranging in age from 8 years to 12 years (3rd through 7th graders).  Two parent volunteers currently co-lead the club:  Nadine Bloch and Brenda Platt.  In September 2008, the club – then only 10 students — decided to focus on improving their school and chose to address the disposable polystyrene lunch trays at their school.  They researched the problems with polystyrene and how to address these problems.  They found out what the school system pays to purchase the disposable trays and plastic cutlery.  They identified other schools that have replaced disposable trays with reusable trays and a dishwasher.  They decided to do the same and started raising money for a dishwasher and circulating a petition.  They tabled at community events (farmers’ market, earth day event, a conference, and more), wrote to and met with elected officials, wrote articles, fundraised, and testified at public meetings.

Here is a chronology of the Young Activist Club’s No-Styrofoam Campaign.

October 2008:  campaign began

October 2008: made posters for the school to educate fellow students

November 2008:  met with principal and solicited his support

December 2008:  wrote and started petition campaign; awarded grant from the Takoma Foundation for the project; cleaned up trash around the school

March 2009:  wrote to MCPS division of maintenance requesting information on the cost of disposing of the polystyrene trays

March 2009:  wrote to MCPS food services staff requesting information on the amount and costs of polystyrene trays used at PBES

April 2009: wrote to County and City elected officials asking for support for project support

April 21, 2009: Club met with Takoma Park City Council Mayor Bruce Williams to ask for his May 2009: faxed form to Department of Facilities Management to formally request a review of the PBES kitchen space for a new dishwasher.

May 1, 2009: met with cafeteria manager, Ms. Washington (no longer at the school), to solicit her support and explain project

May 8, 2009:  met with Takoma Park City Councilmember Josh Wright

May 15, 2009:  County Councilmember Valerie Ervin signed the petition!!

June 3rd, 2009:  Principal Mr. Generlette relays phone conversation with MCPS Sean Gallagher who says that Mr. Lavorgna has not approved our request

June 4th, 2009:  MCPS letter from Mr. Lavorgna formally denies request to install dishwasher (we had only requested a utility survey!)

June 8th, 2009:  Testified before the Takoma Park City Council in support of resolution

June 9th, 2009:  front page Washington Post story!

June 12th, 2009:  County Councilmember Valerie Ervin writes letter of support to school board and Superintendent Jerry Weast

June 14th, 2009:  tables at Takoma Jazz Festival

June 15th, 2009:  Board of Education member Christopher Barclay meets with the Club and tells them they can’t do the pilot but offers a compromise: you can use your money to pilot paperboard trays

June 15th, 2009:  Rush Limbaugh ridicules the club on his national radio program.  Among this comments:  “American schools – especially in blue states – are nothing more than indoctrination camps for the next generation of young liberal activists who will someday run the Democrat Party.”

June 16, 2009:  Held fundraiser at Mark’s Kitchen; raised more than $600!

June 2009:  active fundraising for project!

July 2009:  4 students wrote an article for the Takoma Voice

July 1, 2009:  first walk-through of PBES kitchen by Erle Burke of Burke Design

July 27th, 2009:  club testifies at Board of Education meeting

July 28th, 2009:  Brenda Platt and Nadine Bloch along with past PBES PTA president, Susan Katz Miller, meet with Kathy Lazor, Joe Lavorgna, Board of Ed member Judy Docca, and Board of Ed member Shirley Brandman.  At this meeting, Mr. Lavorgna states he will fight us to the end.  Ms. Brandman facilitates a decision that PBES PTA will pay for a feasiblilty study to analyze the costs.

August 21, 2009:  Erle and Bruce Burke of Burke Design to on-site assessment for feasibility study

October 2009:  club starts up again and doubles in size. We have to turn away interested students!

October 10, 2009:  Club participates in Green Festival. Makes sculpture out of trash.

October 28th, 2009:  Club participates in the Alice Ferguson Foundation’s Trash Summit at the Swedish Embassy.  They table and perform their song, “Goodnight Styrene”.

November 11, 2009:  testifies at Board of Education hearing

February 3, 2010:  testifies at Youth Town Hall meeting, hosted by Montgomery County Council

March 23rd, 2010:  holds community forum at PBES (garners lots of press:  Fox News, WAMU radio, Capital News Service, Montgomery County Gazette)

April 9th, 2010: Entered Duke University’s Green In 3 video competition with our 30-second video:  “Stop Using Styrofoam”  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D57eUculX-A&feature=youtube_gdata

May 9th, 2010:  Testify before Takoma Park City Council requesting the city ban use of City funds to purchase polystyrene food service ware.

June 7th, 2010:  City Council unanimously approves the resolution, marking the passage of the first law in the Mid-Atlantic to restrict polystyrene

July 4th, 2010:  Club organizes major action at Takoma Park independence parade.  Hundreds of repurposed Styrofoam lunch trays are covered with messages and held up as elected officials and local school board members pass in their parade vehicles.  The Post covers the action.  (Photos on facebook page.)

September 24th, 2010:  Club starts up again after summer break

October 29th, 2010:  Met with Takoma Park Mayor Williams and several city council members

November 4th:  YAC asks PBES PTA to pledge to go polystyrene free

November 8th:  awarded Community Hero Award by the Montgomery Civic Federation

November 10th:  Young Activists show up at Takoma Park ES PTA meeting with the Director of Food Services (Marla Caplon) to ask about polystyrene and dishwasher project

November 16th, 2010:  co-leaders met with MD Delegate Heather Mizeur

November 17th, 2010:  work covered in Takoma Park Patch online article:  http://takomapark.patch.com/articles/young-activists-fight-to-have-polystyrene-foam-trays-banned-in-schools

November 30, 2010:  web site updated with more sources on problems with polystyrene and other communities that have passed laws restricting polystyrene

January 14th, 2011:  Met with Board of Education member Shirley Brandman

March 18th, 2011:  Trash pick-up around school and community

April 27th, 2011:  co-leaders met with Council Council staff re introducing polystyrene restriction county-wide

April 28th, 2011:  two Young Activists participate on expert panel following showing of Bag It! movie in Takoma Park

May 4th, 2011:  Lunch waste audit conducted at school

May 18th, 2011:  Trash-Free lunch day (recycling rate increased from 12% to 72%)

June 3rd, 2011:  kick-off of business no-styrofoam campaign.  Twelve businesses pledge to go polystyrene free for food service ware and in return get a window sticker and a stack of bookmarks (explaining problems with and alternatives to polystyrene)

June 15th, 2011:  Young Activists go to community meeting at Blair High School to meet new superindentent Joshua Starr.

Summer break

October 8th, 2011:  Club wins Bethesda Green Award in the Category:  Individuals 18 years or younger who are actively promoting and living a green lifestyle.  Featured, with other award winners, in the December issue of Bethesda Magazine.

October 13th, 2011:  Club covered in Gazette article

Nov. 1st, 2011:  met with Charles Captain Moore of the Agalita Marine Research Foundation and author of Plastic Ocean (private brunch in Takoma Park); he told the students that polystyrene is one of the worst plastics in the ocean as it is found throughout the ocean’s 2-mile vertical column.

February 7th, 2012:  field trip to Baltimore to visit Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior

Jan and Feb:  try to get a meeting with Superintendent Starr. His office tells us that he will not meet with the students.

February 29th, 2012:  testified before the Board of Education in Rockville.  BOE member Laura Berthieume states she would support the project.

March 2nd, 2012:  Club returns to Takoma Park mainstreet to hand out window clings to businesses who signed the pledge and to give out bookmarks.

March 9th, 2012:  Heather DeMocker and Dio Cramer make a video about the club:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=0NgOyWMFZ6M

April 15th, 2012:  Club meets with Dan Shultz at Ecolab to find out costs of leasing a dishwasher instead of buying one.  Dan quotes a low-temp dishwasher lease at $2,579 a year, including soap. Confirms the kitchen can accommodate a dishwasher.

March and April:  many emails to BOE members suggesting compromise project to lease dishwasher and also suggesting a webinar with Seven Generations Ahead, a NGO in IL that has worked directly with schools to replace styrofoam trays with reusable trays and saved the schools money.  Jen Nelson, the Zero Waste Schools Coordinator is available to give a webinar to BOE members and MCPS foodservice staff.  No takers.  Very disappointing.

April 29th:  tabled at Takoma Park Farmers’ Market.  Created pledge for individuals to sign agreeing to try to avoid polystyrene food service ware.

May 8th:  Brenda testified, introduced draft resolution

June 14th:  Brenda testified, introduced draft resolution (with fewer whereas’), YAC testified too (kids put trays on Barclay and Brandman cars)

July 31st:  Montgomery County Council member George Leventhal introduces resolution to ban use of styrofoam plates and food service ware at County cafeterias and recognizes the YAC in his remarks. Council passes resolution.

September 2012:  nine new members from PBES join club.

October 24th, 2012:  participate in Board of Education Candidates Forum in Takoma Park

Dec. 9th, 2012:  Washington Post article:  “FOAM FIGHT! On the subject of disposable lunch trays, student activists and schools may disagree,” by Lynh Bui (front page Metro section).


The Young Activist Club at Piney Branch Elementary School was started by a parent volunteer in January 2007.  That first year the students chose to focus on climate protection.  They researched and discussed global warming, what it is, its impacts, and strategies to prevent it.  They created a petition asking signers to take individual action such as conserving energy.  They testified before the Takoma Park City Council asking the City to take action and suggesting specific steps from planting more trees and offering free parking for hybrid vehicles, to banning polystyrene food service ware.  They spoke at several public events including the Step It Up rally and march in Silver Spring and the Children’s First festival in Takoma Park.  They shared their message with the community by marching in the Takoma Park 4th of July parade.  They made their first trek to Capitol Hill November 2007 to meet Rep. Jay Inslee, who introduced a bill to save the polar bears (and the Arctic ice) in Congress.  Following the meeting with Rep. Inslee, some of his staff took the children on a tour of the Capitol, explaining the history of Congress and how the legislative process works.

In April 2008, the Young Activists Club were recognized by the Takoma Park community when they won the Takoma Voice Award, which is for the person or group that most inspired the staff of the Takoma Voice.

The club was also instrumental in helping to save the Piney Branch pool.