This October, at the Iowa Recycling Association’s Annual Conference, Southeast Polk received the Iowa School Recycling Program of the Year Award.  Southeast Polk received the award because staff and students realize that successful environmental outcomes stem from cross-curricular environmental education and diverse learning opportunities. Southeast Polk has shown its commitment to reducing its environmental footprint through multiple programs, including waste reduction, recycling, energy conservation, sustainable farming and hands-on environmental learning.


  • Southeast Polk participated in a food waste reduction pilot project initiated by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the Iowa Department of Education with onsite administration and assistance provided by the Iowa Waste Exchange. The pilot project consisted of an in-depth study revolving around potential food waste reduction and increased recycling at Clay Elementary. 
  • Southeast Polk launched a food recovery project in all schools within the district. This initiative alone has resulted in the diversion of approximately 6,600 individual food items from the landfill since 2017. Food is redistributed to school programs that have a need, including Southeast Polk’s Backpack Buddy Program. The Backpack Buddy Program provides nutrient-rich, nonperishable foods to qualifying students, ensuring these students have healthy food options over the weekend. 
  • Southeast Polk’s Aquaponics Program has provided food grown in the FFA program’s aquaponics lab directly to school cafeterias. Aquaponics blends aquaculture and hydroponics to create a sustainable solution for private or industrial farming. 


  • Initiatives have included replacing and upgrading lighting with more energy-efficient LED bulbs. LED bulbs typically last longer and are brighter so fewer bulbs will be needed in the long-term. Southeast Polk has experienced a marked decrease in energy usage as well. Initial data indicates a 10-percent decrease in usage. In addition, Southeast Polk utilizes a web-based building automation system that helps them make smart decisions to optimize building heating and cooling performance and reduce energy usage. 


  • Southeast Polk is part of a partnership that includes Metro Waste Authority and Drake University. The initiative centers around Metro Waste Authorities Environmental Learning Center (ELC). The site provides field experience for grades K-12 and a high school environmental science course that meets at the ELC daily. Thousands of students visit the ELC each year. The Metro Waste Authority ELC property is located in Eastern Polk County and is part of the Camp Creek watershed. The building is equipped with two classrooms that accommodate approximately 25 students each. The building also houses donated and purchased lab and sampling equipment. Outside spaces include hundreds of acres of undeveloped land and considerable frontage on Camp Creek. Students study real-world local environmental issues in this integrated setting. 


  • Southeast Polk implemented a community-based initiative in reducing landfill waste with a supplemental benefit of improving the quality of life for all community members – specifically homeless populations. Four Mile Elementary’s fifth grade teacher, Kim Parker, led a service project that helped homeless populations and reduced landfill waste by upcycling plastic bags. Parker explained one way to eliminate waste and help benefit others is through making 3 ft. x 6 ft. recycled bag mats for the homeless. Parker obtained a grant from Metro Waste Authority in order to have a loom made for each of the 19 Four Mile classrooms. Students were allowed to work on the weaving project once their school work was completed and during recess time. The mats that students created provide a dry space for someone to rest on. Completed mats were delivered to the Central Iowa Homeless Shelter. The additional grant money will be used to purchase a buddy bench made out of recycled plastic bags. 

Southeast Polk is proud of the efforts everyone has made to make our world better.