BOX ELDER, S.D. — The Goethe Institute in Germany hosts an annual international conference on sustainability, and a local German class has been involved – working to make international connections and improve their community.
The sustainability conference encourages students from around the world to learn about sustainability and develop projects that can be implemented in their schools. In Box Elder, a group of German III students from Douglas High School focused on sustainability beyond recycling. Elke Kuegle, the German teacher at Douglas, says that the topic of sustainability goes beyond a science or history class and is relevant in all areas of life.
“This is really a topic that affects all of us and it encompasses social justice, poverty, and inequality. Sustainability means that we look into the future and take care of what we have,” said Kuegle. “For generations that are coming ahead of us.”
“To help combat the single use plastic items waste, we put in a reusable water fountain for people to refill their water bottles,” said student Ava Beck. “And then we also implemented a compost system so there isn’t as much food waste anymore.”
The students also encouraged less paper use by opting for digital assignments, which was not difficult with COVID lingering. The group also wanted to know if waste reduction and awareness would contribute to the welfare and well-being of individuals and communities, and they were shocked by the positive response.
“One thing we realized is it’s really hard to change peoples mentalities about sustainability and things like that, but once you introduce ways to compost….I mean I was surprised, like a little satisfaction every time I see somebody go and compost something or throw paper in a recycling bin and things like that,” said German student Joslyn Russell.
Although COVID prevented students from traveling, they were glad to be the change they wanted in their community, and connect with friends abroad doing the same.
“I was getting excited for it, and I was getting ready like, ‘what am I going to do in Germany, what should I bring back, what will I visit, what will I see’, but the main purpose of our visit there was to have this conference and to communicate with other world leaders and people from other schools around the world…to talk about what we’re doing, what we can do to improve, and how we can affect change for the future,” said 11th grader Rachel Johnson.
Although students had to participate in the conference virtually, Douglas High Schools project was selected as one of the top 15 projects out of 70 project submissions from six countries and three continents.