Helping schools go green

Robin Organ, second from right, works with some of her students on games they created for younger kids. From left: Lexie Raczka, a senior at Mansfield High; Patrick Drown, a junior at Oliver Ames High; Jillian Rizzitano, an 8th grader from Southboro; and at far right is Michelle Li, a junior at Needham High. (Staff photo by Mark Stockwell)

MANSFIELD - Following the birth of her second daughter six years ago, Robin Organ began to develop allergies and sensitivities to the environment, culminating in a near-death experience in 2007.

"I was basically allergic to everything," she said.

After surviving the scare, Organ, 36, went to work ridding her family's household of the chemicals and substances she believed were making her sick.

She changed her diet and enacted other environmental controls around the house, and the results were staggering, she said. The health of her and that of her children dramatically improved.

"I didn't realize how many chemicals were out there," she said.

After seeing the effect a healthier and more environmentally friendly lifestyle had on her family, Organ set out to inform others, starting with schools.

Through her non-profit Green Schools, which boasts a 17-member board of directors, Organ and her volunteers have visited more than 100 schools working with teachers, students and administrators on ways to live and operate schools in a more chemical-free way.

"Schools often don't know where to go and get that information," she said. "We try to connect the dots."

Green Schools offers a number of different assemblies for students, such as performances from The Reducers band or Green Girl, as well as workshops and training for staff.

"We show kids how to pack a lunch that is waste-free and also healthy," Organ said, citing one example.

When she began the Green Schools project, Organ said she relied on her 10 years of experience as a high school and middle school teacher to help in developing the program, but learned the administrative side of running a non-profit on the fly.

"It's been a lot of hands-on training," she said. "I've probably earned an MBA."

In running the organization, Organ is helped by a number of student volunteers, known as ambassadors, who help her create and run the programs.

After operating out of the Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary in Norfolk, the group is poised to move into space at Mansfield High School.

The group is hoping to win $20,000 as part of a national contest run by Tom's of Maine, which would allow Green Schools to reach an additional 100 schools.

"We've tested our programs," she said. "We just need to be able to take them farther."

The winner will be determined by online public voting, which wraps up Friday, Sept. 10.

For more information, visit Green Schools' website at www.projectgreenschools.com.

Whether or not the group is successful, Organ said Green Schools will continue to develop new programs and try to reach more students.

"It keeps coming back to us that it needs to be bigger," she said. "We need to reach more people."

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