SPRINGFIELD — Guy Lee Elementary School custodian Bradley Barnhart has established a reputation for himself.
During his nearly three years at the west Springfield school, Barnhart, 42, has cut in half how much garbage students and staff generate each week.
He sorts through the cafeteria’s garbage after lunch to make sure nothing that can be recycled ends up in the trash. He’s shown students and teachers what can and can’t be recycled and has separate cans for recycling, compost and trash.
Barnhart volunteers for several hours each week to lead the school’s “Green Team,” an after-school club for fourth- and fifth-graders who brainstorm ways to reduce waste, conserve energy and reuse materials in the school.
So far, Barnhart has secured nearly $5,000 in grants and award money for the Green Team and the school. He writes applications for grants and contests during his own time.
“I keep looking for stuff,” Barnhart said. “A lot of people don’t even bother trying.
“I’m happy to do this for the school,” he said. He once used several vacation days to visit “green schools” in the Eugene School District to get an idea of what kinds of things students were working on.
He sheepishly admitted, “I’ve got a little bit of a reputation that I’m the one you go to, to make things happen.”
Guy Lee Elementary, located off Harlow Road, is the only school in the Springfield district to be certified with the Corvallis-based nonprofit Oregon Green Schools. Several other schools are working to get certified, or have their expired certification renewed, a school district spokeswoman said.
Custodians at Guy Lee use cleaning products that don’t contain harmful chemicals and have programmed lights and water to automatically shut off when not being used. All paper towel dispensers have a label that reminds students that paper comes from trees.
The school also has a “no thank-you table” where students leave unwanted food items for others to take.
Barnhart’s interest in sustainability peaked after he participated last year in the Lane County Master Recycler Program, a three-course training offered by the Lane County Waste Management Division that teaches about solid waste prevention, reuse, recycling and composting.
He used skills he learned in the program to help Guy Lee students reduce waste. His efforts at the school earned him the local “A Champion in Education” award last year. He keeps the award on his desk.
He said he tries to form relationships with students, whether or not they’re on the Green Team. When he was in school, he didn’t know anything about the custodians, not even their names.
“(Kids) are not going to purposefully make messes if they care about you and know you care about them,” Barnhart said.
Fourth-grader and Green Team member Makaley Layman, 9, describes Barnhart as “awesome.”
Makaley said she’s learned a lot about recycling from him.
“It’s like picking up garbage and helping the world,” she said about recycling.
If she sees someone litter, she now tells them to pick up their garbage, she said.
Green Team meets for a little more than an hour every week and draws anywhere from 13 to 25 students, Barnhart said.
They have also been participating in a free program through the city of Springfield and the Metropolitan Wastewater Management Commission to learn about water and how it’s treated at wastewater treatment facilities.
The team last month unveiled a 40-foot coral-reef theme mural made of about 15,000 plastic caps that would otherwise have gone in the landfill. They collected bottle caps at the school for more than a year.
Green Team members are now trying to come up with ways to reuse broken crayon pieces.
Eventually, Barnhart hopes to create a school garden and replace the school’s plastic utensils with metal ones that can be washed and reused every day.
Guy Lee’s theme during this school year is “to dream big,” which Barnhart has used to guide lesson plans.
“My focus has been to try to find things that will inspire the children to think big, and that they, as children, can make a difference in the environment and their world,” he said.