Summer Schwintek may have only taken on the role of Forest Lake Area High School Environmental Club president in May, but her dedication to protecting the environment is longstanding. She plans to use her new position to promote her club’s efforts to the community and make Forest Lake a more Earth-friendly place to live.
“We are a collection of about 30 students who are passionate about protecting the environment,” she said. “We meet once a week for a half hour to discuss projects and plans to increase environmental awareness in our school and our community.”
One major initiative that put the club on many people’s radar screens was the implementation of a school-wide recycling program. Every classroom has a bin, and there are plans to extend the effort to all of the classrooms that will be added once the current construction project is complete.
“This recycling program is something that has never before been done in the school’s history,” Schwintek said. “Last year, we collected 16,000 pounds of recyclable material, and now that the effort is in full swing, our total is near 100,000 pounds.”
One other aspect to the recycling program made its way into the community as the Environmental Club collected a total 100 pounds of old Christmas lights. The lights were then sent to a facility that employs at-risk adults to separate the lights from the strings for proper recycling.
“Some of the things that we have done have paid off in unexpected ways,” Schwintek said. “I made T-shirts that said ‘Save the bees, plant the trees, clean the seas’ with a plan to just give them to friends. There turned out to be a demand though, and so we sold 60 of the shirts and gave our profit to the Warner Nature Center bee apiary program.”
Another effort to protect bees came in the form of a pollinator garden planted on May 20. The group planted 54 native plants to attract birds, bees and butterflies. That idea also included a community outreach aspect.
“We planted the garden near the back of the staff parking lot intentionally by the bike trail so that community members who see it will hopefully realize what we are doing and try to be more environmentally friendly in their own lives,” she said.
Future plans for the club include adopting a highway and working with district officials to upgrade a water bottle filling station in the school.
Schwintek, a junior, will maintain her presidency until an election in May 2018. She plans to make environmental friendliness a large part of her adult life as she is planning a degree in biology and possible future work in the field of environmental policy.
“I am proud of the work that this club has done and continues to do,” she said. “We are making great strides in closing the gap between what we are doing in our school and what can be done in the community. The hope is that our efforts will influence the Forest Lake community to make better choices.”