Benelux Celebrates Earth Day
Sabine Schneider of the USAG Benelux Environmental Team instructs a Brussels American School class on making a model wind turbine

BRUSSELS, Belgium - Earth Day has come a long way since its U.S. foundation in 1970 by Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson.

At that time, environmentalism and environmental awareness were in their nascent stages. "It definitely wasn't part of the mainstream culture when I was growing up," said Brussels American School (BAS) middle school teacher Donna McVicker. "There was something faintly "counter-culture" about it, hippies and beads and sandals."

That attitude has significantly changed in the intervening decades, and environmentalism is now definitely considered mainstream in all aspects of U.S. society, whether as something to be taught and fostered in public schools, or as an integral part of an Army garrison's daily business.

McVicker has incorporated environmental themes in her BAS teaching career for several years. Several years ago, she launched a successful paper recycling campaign at the school, in which students were organized to collect school paper waste.

"That campaign is still going strong," explained McVicker, "which is kind of the point; we want our students to become environmentally aware, to translate that awareness into practical and sustained daily action, and develop good habits."

McVicker has also long had a cooperative relationship with the U.S. Army Garrison Benelux Directorate for Environment, which not only supports the ChiAfA..vres garrison where it is based, but Brussels activities as well. "The Benelux environmental folks under Philippe Dumont have always been very helpful," says McVicker. "It's thanks to them that we have the fine paper recycling dumpster we use."

The Benelux Environment Directorate supports McVicker's initiatives in other ways. This year, the Directorate sent several of its specialists to BAS to conduct classes and raise the environmental awareness of BAS students.

"This was a great opportunity for us," explained Environmental Protection Specialist Bernardine Ghysselinckx. "With Mrs. McVicker's support, we were able to touch the BAS elementary and middle schools. She helped us in our environmental mission, and we helped her in her teaching mission."

Although Earth Day is normally celebrated on April 22 in the U.S., BAS has usually observed it a week later. "We like to combine it with the traditional Arbor Day, said McVicker.

Because of its emphasis on planting, she believes the two are a natural fit. This year's BAS observance took place on April 28.

Throughout the day, students rotated through three different and very distinct training sessions. "We had classes about water and water conservation, wind turbine electrical power generation, and a session on local birds in this part of Belgium," explained Ghysselinckx. The broad range of subjects reinforced the idea that environment is everywhere, and that nurturing it must be the subject of a holistic approach.

"The classes really complemented our other efforts," said McVicker. "Our students got to do a lot of planting, which, in addition to the side benefit of making the school grounds look so much nicer, reinforce the concept of green vegetation being the lungs of the earth."

Was the dedication of a day worth it' Davin Umlang, an 8th grader, thinks so. "It was a great way to learn about our environment and think about what we need to do to save it."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16