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Hailey Students Have Composting Work Cut Out for Them
Wednesday, August 30, 2023


Add “C” to the three “Rs” students will learn when they return to Hailey Elementary School today for the 2023-24 school year.

Students diverted more than a ton of organic waste from the landfill through their inaugural school-wide composting program in the spring of 2023. Now, Hailey Elementary School students are ready to roll up their sleeve and resume composting.

Incoming fifth-graders will have the chance to join the Compost Crew, assisting the school’s 300 students in sorting and weighing diverted organic mater every day at lunch. And together they will try to see if they can beat the 2,500 pounds they saved from the landfill last year.

Special Education teacher Sarah Polk started the compost program in the school after observing lunchtime habits over her 18-year tenure with the Blaine County School District.

“Schools produce a lot of waste each day. It was unbelievable to me how much food was wasted daily,” she said. “Students were throwing a lot of their school- or home-packed lunches in the garbage. Seeing this inspired me to look into reducing the amount of waste that we were sending to the landfill.”

Polk worked with members of the Sun Valley Institute for Resilience to design a compost program. And with the help of PTA funds, Clear Creek Disposal transported food scraps to Winn’s Compost every week.

Compost Crew members made signs and educational videos, showing younger students how to sort trash from the organic material that went into the green compost bin. They talked about how composting could decrease carbon emissions and contribute to a more resilient regional food system in the Wood River Valley. And, as they learned about the importance of decreasing food waste, students started taking home leftover food when possible.

“For any new program to succeed, the ‘why’ for students needs to be clear from the beginning,” said Hannah Harris, the program coordinator for the Sun Valley Institute for Resilience. “Students were enthusiastic to engage with the compost program in part because we centered conversations around stewardship for our school communities and our planet. We also intentionally included students in fun creative aspects of the program.”

Polk said she would love to see all schools compost.

“But details need to be figured out before it’s realistic,” she added.

The Sun Valley Institute for Resilience’s 5B Resilient program staff is available to help launch compost programs at other schools. To learn more, email

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