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Natural Awakenings Space & Treasure Coast Florida

Environmental Change from the Ground Up

Apr 30, 2013 03:12PM ● By Kris Urquhart

Nestled in bustling downtown Melbourne the Florida Air Academy resides in a historic building erected over 60 years ago as a magnificent Spanish Mediterranean-style mansion. It became The Lincoln Hotel just one year later and eventually The Belcelona Hotel. In 1961 Jonathan Dwight, an educator and aviation enthusiast, acquired the building and founded Florida Air Academy (FAA), a military-style college preparatory school. Today the school has approximately 300 co-ed students and a burgeoning environmental movement.

Her Ojibewe name, given to her by Hilda Syrette – a Native American elder from Canada, is Chi aanimakikwe which means “whirl-wind woman”; Jamie Cartier reflects the energy of that name daily as a Spanish teacher and environmental leader at the FAA. Cartier’s passion for Spanish and environmental studies was declared an unusual match by college professors but has proven to be a useful combination in her work at the academy. In 2008 she founded the Florida Air Academy Environmental Club with the support of the school’s owner, James Dwight. Cartier started with a grand vision and baby steps. Her first initiative was a recycling program that began with decorated cardboard boxes and a handful of students tasked with collecting recyclable materials from classrooms and depositing them into the larger campus bins. Armed with a checklist and a cart the “free spirited kids” incorporated fun into executing their duties with antics such as wearing sombrero’s and announcing their arrival with maracas.

"The school’s chef is supportive and helps Cartier select the contents of the garden and incorporates its produce whenever possible."

Cartier noted that changing the culture was a methodical process. “We have kids from all over the world at our school. Many of them come from countries that don’t employ recycling efforts. It was confusing to them to understand why we celebrate garbage.” However, many of these kids have become the Environmental Club’s biggest supporters. “One of our students packed up recyclable items during a visit home and brought them back to school because her parents didn’t have access to a recycling program,” says Cartier. “Her mom didn’t understand why she would carry garbage back to school.” It is progress like this that touches Cartier’s heart and keeps her motivated. “I even find chip bags and wrappers in my teacher’s box.” They are contributions from other faculty members on campus to the program. The school now has recycle bins in all the classrooms donated by the city of Melbourne’s educational program and has even expanded recycling to the school’s dorms. They have established a “recycling chain of command” complete with student Recycling Officers who oversee the program.

What began as a struggle against old ways of thinking and the stigmatism of the hippie lifestyle evolved into a new way of life.

However, the pride and joy of the Environmental Club is the school’s organic garden. It began with just a few pots and donated plants scattered on a concrete slab. The club’s fundraisers and generous donations from Metz Corp have helped them establish multiple raised beds with a full production array of herbs and vegetables. The school’s chef is supportive and helps Cartier select the contents of the garden and incorporates its produce whenever possible. He can be found each week clipping basil for “pizza Friday” from one of the beds situated beside rosemary, dill, onions, cilantro, peppers, broccoli and more. “Seeing it on their plates demonstrates the entire cycle,” says Cartier.

Getting many of the clubs involved is part of Cartier’s mission. She has Chemistry students test the garden’s soil and ensure that it is balanced. “The garden has even been a source of stress relief for one of our students. She spends time in the garden to decompress while weeding and watering the plants.” Cartier hopes to incorporate a program for the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) that includes a cut, measure, track, and deliver system. These initiatives combined with the club’s annual Earth Day celebration are making a difference at FAA. This April marked their 4th annual Earth Day celebration and included speakers from like-minded community groups, fact-based learning, Native American representatives, rock climbing, water slides, and music.

What began as a struggle against old ways of thinking and the stigmatism of the hippie lifestyle evolved into a new way of life. Cartier sums it up, “When I look back on my life this is definitely one of the things that will make me feel good.”

If you have an organization that has a story to tell or an example of improving their carbon footprint to share please email Natural Awakenings Publisher, Kris Urquhart at [email protected]

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